Memory #1 from my first trip to Asia.
A month ago when I first mentioned how climbing Mount Fuji was a metaphor for me to my parents, they told me to stop making metaphors out of everything.
But now that I’m back home and weeks have passed, I still think it’s a story worth telling and one that I hope to weave into even more compelling plays, screenplays, and other literary art in the future.
I flew to Tokyo at the end of August to tour Japan with my parents, visit them in Taipei, and to experience Asia for the first time. And though I was looking forward to many new adventures, one certainly topped my list. I created a hashtag (#sulcclimbfuji), trained at the gym and pool for 5 weeks before my flight, and advertised to everyone: I was going to climb Mount Fuji.
I joked with everyone before the trip that parents were going to leave me eating their dust as we climbed up the mountain. They are super active in Taipei, posting pictures of 50+ mile bike rides and hikes up their various mountains every week. Plus my mom beat my time in the Danskin triathlon back at the beginning of high school and it still burns.
During the first few hours, this theory held true. I huffed and puffed and barely had an appetite for the hot coffee and beef noodle bowls for lunch. When we started climbing again, everything changed.
In spite of the rain and wind, I zoomed to the front of the group. I blocked out the inane conversation of other hikers in our group. I felt my breath flitting in and out of my nose and the power of the mountain around me, the awe I felt each time I noticed the altitude changing and the vast expanse of the valley opening up beneath me.
Meditation. I had found the most joyous meditation.
When I reached a shrine dotted with shiny tokens left by other climbers, I turned back to look at the group and the wind pushed the clouds away. Lake Hakone rolled into view surrounded by greenery in the distance. The sun underneath us glinted off the drizzling rain and double rainbows crisscrossed the whole.
I don’t have a picture of this view, didn’t want to take one and ruin the pure joy (or my camera). I can say honestly that if the “double rainbow all the way” guy felt anything like this, I can see why people thought he was high on something.
Nothing could dampen my spirits. Not my rubbery legs, the increasing rain, my parents’ complaints, the thought of climbing back into wet clothes after spending the night in a camping-style mountain hut and running outside in the rain and cloud in the middle of the night to pay 200 yen to use the restroom.
I was invincible, I was happy in the most unlikely circumstances. And I don’t let myself feel happy like that often.
I try, but even when I packed my bags for Japan and Taiwan I hadn’t realized I’d packed my anxiety as well. How could I avoid it? Residencies and years of writing and therapy have not eradicated it. It’s not something I can choose to take a vacation from so easily. With jet lag adding to my stress, I’d spent the first three days in Tokyo battling painful physical anxiety while also doing my best to navigate through my itinerary and enjoy the sights.
Now, in the middle of a rainy night at Fuji’s eighth mountain hut, I’d found relief and a goal only a few kilometers away that would increase it exponentially. I’d capture the earth cache at the top of the mountain and grab pictures and stories to take back home. Proof that I’d accomplished this goal and while smiling and hiking ahead of my parents.
When 3 a.m. came and went with more wind, lightning, and no wake-up call, I was crushed. We wouldn’t be climbing to the top but sleeping a few more hours and then climbing back down.
No one else in the group needed to process or grieve this news like I did. It’s one of the worst parts of anxiety: the isolation. I can’t always put what I feel into words at the beginning and even when I can, it often feels so opposed, un-relatable, and worst of all, so ugly and off-putting, that no one wants to get near me or knows how to help.
I cried for the most of the night and pouted more than I’d care to admit in the morning and on the way down. Halfway down I promised not to keep this up for the rest of the trip and then the mountain started helping me forget.
I laughed as a slalomed down the piles of rock, sliding like I really was skiing down the mountain. The restaurant at the bottom had the udon noodles and mushrooms I’d been craving. At a rest stop on the way back, the other Americans bought me a melon bun–weird but delicious. And while my parents dealt with hotel details back in Tokyo, I ran off to find a geocache, something to make up for the many I had missed.
It still hurt way more than I wanted it to days later when people we met in Kyoto talked about the mountain, about their plans to climb it or a similar experience of getting caught in the storm.
My metaphor: I equated my inability to make it up to the summit with the rest of my life path right now. There’s so much I want to do as a person in my mid-20’s and as an artist with writing ideas that take so much longer to gestate and revise than I’d like. I want to make my mark in the world and I want to see more of it and I want it all now… but it’s not yet time. Not making it up Mount Fuji, just another accomplishment the universe doesn’t want me to have yet.
I also didn’t want to explain that I sort of climbed Mount Fuji either. I wanted all the proof and the glory. On the mountain, I was already formulating this blog post. This isn’t it exactly–I found some nuggets of wisdom to save for new screenplays–but it’s why it has taken me so long to report back.
Visiting Japan inspired me to read Haruki Muraki and in the past week I discovered that he says it best,
I was able to do the bare minimum, but it was a frustrating result after all my hard training and meticulous planning. It felt like a remnant of a dark cloud had wormed is way into my stomach. No matter what, I couldn’t accept this. I’d trained so hard, so why did I get cramps? I’m not trying to argue that all effort is fairly rewarded, but if there is a God in heaven, was it asking too much to let me glimpse a sign? Was it too much to expect a little kindness? (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)
It’s not fair, but it’s life. I’ve gotten the message, come to terms with reality, and gone back to mine the moments of pure joy from Mount Fuji that can’t be erased because we didn’t make it to the tip top. Like how great that Snickers bar tasted after the first day’s climb. I could (almost) give them up now.
And yet, I’ve resolved to return to Fuji. Not alone, but not with my parents either. There’s something left for me at the top and I’d like to think that though the sacred gods of the mountain kept me from it for my safety that morning, they’ll be ready to lead me there next time. Just like they led me to front of the group so that I’d be standing alone when those rainbows appeared and hit me with the full force of that awesome moment.
More memories of Japan and Taiwan to follow. Stay tuned.