Immediately after opening the hatchback of his Suzuki Wagon R, Ted and I foraged through the tangled mess of left behind gear, searching for a dry change of clothes. Among the scattered things, I had an extra winter jacket and a Uniqlo heat-tech turtleneck base layer, while Ted had a couple of pairs of low-top walking shoes. We sat in the spacious bus stop shelter and slowly stripped off our wet layers. It felt good to get some dry fabric on my upper torso. Despite wading though the river, my snow pants did an impeccable job soaking up the water and my hiking pants were only slightly damp. Rolling up my pant legs, I gasped at the state of my lower extremities. My left knee was red and had started to swell, while a large gash on my right shin sent shivers down Ted’s spine. “At least the bleeding has stopped,” I added, trying to make light of what could have been a much more serious situation. I found a slightly damp pair of socks in the bottom of my pack and wrapped them around my wrinkled toes. My snow boots had withstood the test and kept the blood circulation flowing to my metatarsals. My companion, ever the sucker for punishment, put his bare feet directly into his shoes, figuring it would be warmer than keeping his soaked socks on. Ted put the car into gear while we edged our way down the snow-covered byway. We were in a lightweight 660cc three-cylinder engine vehicle without snow tires and we needed sustenance and warm shelter without delay.
The instant cell phone reception returned, I called Mike to let him know we were safe. Ted kept his eyes focused on the road, knowing that it would only take one skid to thrust us back in the danger zone. Thirty seconds later I receive a call from the cops. They want us to come to the police station at once for questioning. Ted stopped at a vending machine while I multi-tasked by buying hot lemon drinks and getting directions to the koban. Those who reside in Japan know how long it can take to fill out paperwork in this procedural-addicted country. “Let’s get it over with,” exhaled Ted in dejection. We headed to the police box across from Adogawa station. I rapped on the door but it was locked. A cop, emerging from his slumber in the back room came out to let us in just as the officers I had been on the phone with arrived. They offered us seats but Ted and I remained standing. A kerosene heater was generating heat for the small space. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the counter, where the officers were standing. We fielded a rapid-fire list of questions, while an assisting officer took down information from our ID cards. The cop directly in front of me was on the phone with the Kyoto police, relaying information to them as it was being jotted down by the main interrogating officer. About 10 minutes into the questioning I interrupted the proceedings to ask if it would be possible to get a glass of water. They seemed a bit surprised at the proposition but asked us if we wanted cold tap water, or hot water from the thermos. Moments later, the friendliest of the three cops put a mug of steam in front of each of us as we continued answering some particularly invasive questions. Was it necessary that we tell them our occupation? Are they going to call my boss to confirm? Do you really need to know how old my wife is? Finally, I could take it no longer and snapped when they pulled out the camera. “Why do you need our pictures”, I quipped, “are we criminals?”. That really lit the fuse of the guy in charge, as he yelled a quick retort: “If you were criminals then you certainly wouldn’t be standing here answering questions!”
I learned to keep my mouth shut after that. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was after 1 in the morning, and there were no witnesses should the pigs pull a Rodney King on us. Ted was really starting to feel physically uncomfortable, as he had lost all feeling in his toes from standing there in sock-less shoes all this time. “Do you have any injuries?” asked the cop directly in front of me. I replied in the negative, knowing that if they discovered the state of my legs they would force me into an ambulance and we would likely succumb to hypothermia en route. “Why is your nose bloody then?”, inquired the most persistent of the three. I had a glorified Sherlock Holmes on my hands here. I covered as best I could: “oh, I must’ve hit it on a tree branch.” After taking a photo of my facial cuts, I could sense the questioning was coming to a close by the sermon-esque nature of the conversation. We were being scolded for our late start and our lack of registering our climbing intentions with the authorities. We apologized profusely until we sensed the change in tone. The friendliest even offered his condolences: “It must’ve been cold up there.” We wrapped up by asking the location of the nearest convenience store, which turned out to be right around the corner. In hindsight we should have headed there first and told the cops to do their questioning there. At least we could’ve eaten a warm meal and Ted could have gotten socks for his feet!
We hit the 7-11 and went to town. The poor store clerk must’ve thought we were certified lunatics for the sheer amount of trips we took to the register. I bought instant noodles first, and while they were brewing did the rest of my shopping: a new pair of gloves, new socks, a salmon and seaweed rice ball, an isotonic sports drink, and two liters of water. Ted did the complete opposite, buying clothes first in lieu of nutrients. We stood at the counter for over half an hour, putting on our new digs and filling our tummies with warm noodles. The final purchase was a newspaper that we could use to start drying our shoes.
We hit the road again and coasted into Kyoto city shortly after 3am. Ted turned on the gas heater and electic blanket, filled up the bath, and produced two cups of piping hot tea. We sat on the warm floor, recapping what went right and what went wrong on our trip. It’s true we got in some hairy situations because of our careless choices, but ultimately saved ourselves with some key decisions when they mattered most. Alas, we were saved by the very mechanism that has destroyed the beauty of Japan’s mountains. So the next time you become hopelessly lost in the mountains, instead of following a stream, you might be better off following the cedars.