Almost a week had passed before I could once again walk up stairs without a leaden gait, and my neck and shoulders no longer felt in spasm. I had climbed Kazahari Toge for the first time this year. The beautiful quiet tree-lined roads out there, the slowly flowing brooks and Hansel & Gretal cottages made it one of my favourite roads, and in summer the generousity of the shady boroughs made it divine.
But – it was a honeytrap. The road narrowed some more and curved & burrowed deeper into the mountain, and with a frightful and abrupt 180 degree turn looked back with insolence and shot up into the heavens. Kazahari Toge. Say it out loud ! The syllables themselves threaten you, mock you.
It had taken me years to beat this climb, to make it up without walking, then without stopping on the long exposed 20 degree inclines. It was the steepest climb around, a 1150 metre summit with the last 700m elevation covered in less than 5km. It became my favourite training climb, perfect for building up strength and stamina, for teaching the body to handle sustained pain for the occasional hill climb race. And I would be back again and again, fixated on a personal best, a sub something minute time. I beat her, but I never conquered her – the fear remained, and the memory of the agony never faded fast enough. Oh I needed Kazahari, but I certainly didn’t want her.
I wrung out my sleeves, sweat dripped onto the tarmac and at 1150m I started to shiver – this pass punishes you to both extremes, boiling to freezing in minutes. The fast descent into Okutama was colder, and the wind in my ears was deafening but I couldn’t leave with only this; I needed to heal the wounds of Kazahari. So I climbed another pass, a lesser pass, Tsuru Toge, to remind me there was still sanity on some of these slopes, and peeled off into a favourite little-known side valley. The Unabomber route.
The rugged old hunting dog was there, as with every other time I took this narrow road. He leapt at me from outside the abandoned forest hide at the side of the road, snarling and slavering, and as always, was yanked back by the chain that secured him to a wooden tree stump. Someday that chain will fail I mused distractedly. There were no animal skins hanging out to dry today, and I guessed he was looking for his first kill of the season. The growling and barking subsided as I put more distance between us and now my full concentration was on dodging rocks and potholes hidden under the deep shade of the trees, and I climbed carefull over a recent rockslide, careful not to slip over the edge of the road.
It was deadly quiet, but for the odd rock that fell to the valley floor below and I smiled for the first time since I turned on to Kazahari that morning. It was nice to be back to some normality at last.