At the Orchard we had two free days a week to do whatever we wanted. It seemed it would be a shame not to go hiking at some point while living in the shadow of the southern alps. So I pulled out a map of the area and marked out my route. There were plenty of mountains just east of us, but the trick was finding one that was easy to access. I studied the roads and found that most of them required going way south before venturing east toward the trailheads. There was one road, however, that began near us and wound a squiggly path directly in toward Mt. Maruyama (round mountain). It seemed perfect!
After a hearty breakfast of yogurt, toast, apples, and natto, I set out with my paper map, bicycle, and anticipation. What I didn’t have was road names. All I could do was estimate which road was which based on the curves and numbers of turnoffs. I struck what I thought was the turnoff for my mountain road and began to climb. It did not seem well used. Big tufts of pampas grass grew into the road. I road through these, mindful that it was still warm enough for the mamushii snakes to be active. Next came a fallen tree. It was easy enough to lift the bike over, but there was a thick layer of slimy plant matter decomposing on the road after it. I finally made it to a larger fallen tree and had to recheck my map. Yes, it seemed like the right route. I had already gone this far and didn’t want to backtrack through those obstacles again, so I maneuvered the bike around the trunk and branches until reaching the other side. In another hundred feet, there was a dead end. Ok, so I was wrong.
I scoped out what was ahead. The road ended with a large pile of dirt, around which a pine forest climbed steadily upward. About 300 feet up the hill there was another road, much larger this time, and more likely to be the one I was seeking. I wheeled my bike over the dirt mound and faced the 45degree slope. I tried pushing the bike straight up the hill, but each time a root or a rock stopped my momentum it was a 3ft loss in ground. Next I thought I could zigzag the bike up the hill, but the wheels couldn’t stay upright under the crumbly slope. I finally resorted to laying the bike on its side, standing uphill from it, and yanking it up, one step at a time. I felt very silly out there dragging a heavyweigt bicycle up a hill. What I should have done when the road began to look questionable would be to follow it on foot a ways to find out what was ahead. That insight would be for next time. This time I decided it was a good exercise in building my willpower and grit.
The road at the top was wide and smooth, and even provided a slight downhill before making it to the much more obvious turn. From there the road went up at a grade between 5-14%. For the next 4 hours I walked and sometimes rode up the hill, having plenty of time to reflect on the nature of squiggly roads. As this one showed, they were unlikely to be flat. But the weather was perfect, the road smooth, and views inspiring. What more could I ask for? Well, maybe to find the trailhead.
In my eagerness to “begin the hike”, I went down a few false trailheads. The right one finally announced itself in the form of a sign. It gave estimated ascending and descending times, showed where waterfalls and streams crossed the path, and listed all the peaks and their respective heights. These were just the foothills of the alps, but having climbed 5 hours already, I wasn’t complaining.
Much of the path consisted of wooden stairs staked into the mountainside. They were well hidden underneath a thick blanket of leaves, making it hard to follow the switchbacking course. It was beautiful out there, though. Several waterfalls bordered the path, adding a rhythmic background to the birds’ song.
At 3pm I sat down to eat my last snack. I still had about an hour before reaching the peak, but realized that it wouldn’t be much longer before the sun set on the east side of the mountain. It wasn’t worth the risk of coming down steep slippery paths in the dark. After only an hours’ climb, I returned to my bicycle and started the descent. It was 45 minutes of pure downhill riding, breaks screeching around every turn. My mission was complete.