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Week 4 of the 2013 ELI Pedometer Challenge

By Charles Wetzel

Ever walked 211 miles in one week? Yeah, neither had I, until the week of February 25-March 3, 2013. During this week, I walked (or jogged) a total of 423,389 steps, or an average of ~60,484 steps per day (~30 miles). Man, were there ever blisters on my feet!

My Japanese students who are studying English tend to have trouble pronouncing the difference between "walking" and "working." They just sort of roll it all into one word, "waakingu." Well, in the last week, from the morning when I woke up until about midnight, I was "waakingu" pretty much constantly. Nearly every moment was either spent working at my English conversation school or walking, or sometimes both. On rare occasion, I sat down at my computer just long enough to do the bare minimum to keep up with my two NOVA ELI courses, ITE 115 and ITN 100. I picked the Kid's Talk 1 Jungle Animals unit for use with the kindergarten and primary school students. This enabled us to walk around the room looking for flash cards of a lion, a gorilla hidden in a shoe, an elephant hidden in a plastic decorative plant, and of course, a tiger tucked behind a poster of a tiger. I was able to accrue extra steps this way, and the kids seem to enjoy that particular unit anyway. I knew that this last week was absolutely critical in winning the Pedometer Challenge. I was starting the week with a slight lead, but it was nowhere near enough of a lead to get cocky and relax. The difference between my step count and the step count of the next-highest competitor literally came down to the steps I did on the last day.

I won't bore my readers with the details of Monday to Friday beyond the ones I have already disclosed, but if they really want to read the details, I have copied and pasted an e-mail I wrote to Amanda Morley with my activity log into this text document.

Here's a wasp's nest from a park in Yokkaichi:

To the Peak of Mt. Gozaisho

I had failed to climb the frozen wasteland that was Mt. Gozaisho in the last week of February. I had underestimated the 1,212-meter mountain by a long shot, thinking that because it was less than 1/3 as tall as Mt. Fuji, it would be easier than Mt. Fuji. I had taken great risks and had had to turn back between 700 and 800 meters in humiliation. However, to meet my goal that I had made at the start of the contest, I would have to climb to the peak of the mountain. There was no way around it.

I spent the whole week brainstorming ideas. Why had I failed the first time? Well, the two biggest issues had been time and clothing — I had started in the afternoon, which was far too late to reach the peak by the last ropeway car, or even by dark. My clothes had also been inadequate. My footwear had also been inadequate (most climbers had cleats, I did not). I was able to address two of these points quite well. I started climbing Saturday morning instead of in the afternoon. I figured that even if it took me over four hours to ascend (the maximum time is said to be three hours, at least for spring, summer, and fall) and two hours to descend, I could arrive back at the base of the mountain before nightfall. Time was now on my side. I also got a warm hood and two gloves for each hand, this time — waterproof dish washing gloves on the outside (to keep my hands dry) and cotton gunte (work gloves) on the inside (to keep my hands warm). I knew that I would have to keep four points of contact much of the time, so my hands had to be well-equipped!

Unfortunately, cleats were something I was unable to procure. I had checked, and it looked like most pairs of cleats would be ~$300. I just wasn't willing to spend that amount of money, although I really did want cleats. I also had a bamboo pole this time (which proved very useful in the deep snow near the top of the mountain).

Aided by the slightly better weather and much better equipment, I hiked through the first part with ease. I reached the Fourth Station (below) and felt very optimistic, the A-Team theme playing in my head:

A Great View:

I was very optimistic about the climb up until about the Fifth Station or so. I had gotten much farther than the previous weekend, and felt great and much better-equipped. That's when the going got tough... This was the first of the truly dangerous areas on the mountain. There were very high winds, dropoffs, and I had to keep four points of contact and move very slowly to make sure I didn't slip:

And then it got really bad... No, the scene below was not taken with a weird camera angle. That was the actual angle of the slope!

When I was lucky, there was a chain or rope tied around some trees or anchored to a boulder to help pull me up steep slopes like the one shown above. Sometimes, there was no rope or chain. I would drive my bamboo pole down into a foot or two of snow, then pull myself up. Or I would break the surface of the snow with the bamboo pole and then kick my foot into the small hole made by the bamboo pole, which would make a foothold in the deep, dense snow. I was able to get decent traction this way and continue to climb.

Other climbers became sparser and sparser. In retrospect, I think many climbers must have been turning back before reaching the peak, because in the last stretch before the peak, there were almost no footprints. In two feet of snow, footprints tend to be noticeable as they go quite deep, and I saw almost no footprints and often wondered if I was on the right path. I lost the path once and had to backtrack. Fortunately, some boulders were spray-painted with a red circle (which means "OKAY"), and I was able to locate the correct path, eventually.


However, my morale started to sag, particularly when a middle-aged woman climber told me to turn back because the ropeway was probably going to be closed due to inclement weather! A couple of climbers after her also told me to turn back. I thought that turning back would be insanity. I only had 30 minutes between me and the peak according to them, but a descent would mean at least a couple of hours of very dangerous descending... I decided not to heed their advice, and am very glad I didn't heed it, because I soon reached the peak, its warm building, and its ropeway. The temperature: -6 degrees Celsius. Snow was falling quite hard by now.

Me at the Mt. Gozaisho Peak, pretty much the happiest man alive:

Snow was falling heavily when I reached the peak:

I was absolutely ecstatic. I had accomplished my goal, which I had failed to accomplish the previous weekend — reaching the peak of Mt. Gozaisho. The staff at the lodge on the top of the mountain were in awe, as well — I guess they hadn't seen a climber climb up in a while (everyone I met at the summit had taken the ropeway up, not climbed up). I would have loved to have gotten a warm meal, chatted with the lodge staff, and maybe even bought a souvenir, but it was after 3:50 PM and the ropeway was scheduled to close around 4:00 PM. I quickly bought a ticket for the ropeway (¥1,200 and worth every yen) and caught the 3:55 PM car, sharing the car with a young couple and their "bobsleigh" and a social studies professor from Yokkaichi University.

View from the Ropeway:

Yep, call me a fool, but that's the kind of stuff in which I had hiked up:

Me on the Ropeway Car:

I ate the snacks in my backpack (except for the banana chips) and loaded up on McDonald's back in Yokkaichi. Then I went home and started preparing for Part II of my weekend.

Yokkaichi to Kameyama to Iga to Kyōto-fu

Back at my apartment in Yokkaichi, I prepared for another feat — I was going to walk over 100,000 steps in one calendar day and reach Nara (the original capital of Japan before the capital was changed to Kyōto, to the north, and then eventually to Edo [now known as Tōkyō] during the Edo Period). How was I going to manage over 100K steps in one calendar day? Simple — don't sleep and get around 5,000 steps per hour (slow walking pace) for 20 hours. I would arrive in Nara, over 92 kilometers away, absolutely exhausted around 8:00 PM or so on Sunday night, flop down on a hotel bed, and sleep a solid 12 hours, feeling like a million bucks in the morning. That was the plan — no sleep after Gozaisho, just keep walking!

I mapped out a route on Google Maps. Then I set out around 9:00 PM Saturday night. I mostly jogged along Tōkaidō and reached Kameyama (literally "Turtle Mountain"), a neighboring city, just before midnight:

The temperature dropped and a bit of snow fell, but it was warm compared to Mt. Gozaisho. I stopped in a convenience store and had some steamed buns to eat. Delicious. I also photographed my pedometer to make sure there was a record of March 2.

I walked and walked through Kameyama through the night. Around 6:00 AM, I reached the city limits of Iga, land of the ninjas!

No, I am not being facetious. Iga really is famed for its ninjas. Just check any decent encyclopedia. I didn't see any ninjas, though the city, the town, and the surrounding rural areas were so poorly marked, it felt like it would take a ninja to navigate them... There are two roads called "25" in Iga and I got lost many, many times. I spent hours making no real progress towards Nara. Eventually I obtained a better map from a shopkeeper in the town of Iga than the the one I had on my Android phone.

A map of Iga from a billboard (note the two roads both called "Route 25" that are sometimes parallel to each other and sometimes crisscross each other):

A Dead Lizard:

Agricultural Fields in Iga:

Iga Castle, a Ninja Castle If There Ever Was One:

Well, eventually, I managed to find a route to Nara. I found that by going west along Route 163, I could turn south onto a certain road, pass the Shimagahara Country Club, and eventually end up on a small road that would bring me into the northernmost part of Nara City. Once I was there, I would have ~100,000 steps and would have accomplished my two goals (not contest goals, but more recent goals) of walking to Nara from Yokkaichi and getting 100,000 steps in one calendar day.

I entered a path next to the Shimagahara Country Club (Shimagahara is on the Mie Prefecture side right along the tri-prefectural border between Mie, Kyōto Urban Prefecture (Kyōto-fu), and Nara-shi (Nara City). I would be in Nara in no time!

The woods near Shimagahara Country Club:

Well, I just kept walking and walking. Before too long, I emerged in a clearing where a man was excavating the side of a hill with a backhoe. I called out to the man and asked him where I was — he said "Kyōto-fu!" Apparently I had gone off course a bit. He also said he would help me find my way out of the woods, or even give me a ride. I told him I couldn't take a ride, since it was my goal to walk to Nara without using any vehicles for a contest I was doing. He said that he would still show me the way out of the woods when he was done working for the day.

Me standing in front of a sign (about conserving a certain type of fish) in the Kyōto part of the mountains — note the part that says 京都府 — these are the kanji for Kyōto-fu:

I went and explored another part of the woods (hoping to find a path to Nara), but when I returned to the backhoe site, he was gone, and the sun was setting! I started to get a bit worried.

I ended up spending hours walking around the area, trying to retrace the steps I had taken in to get out. I couldn't find the way out. There weren't even any people there at that point. I was trapped in an agricultural valley with tea farms and rice paddies surrounded by impassable mountains on all sides, it seemed. I spent hours trying to find my way out, and just couldn't find a way out. I could have called 119 on my cell phone, but I didn't consider it a life-or-death emergency, and the last thing I wanted was for a bunch of authorities to be mobilized at great expense, come out, rescue me, and then for it all to end up in the newspaper that "Police from [Insert Name of Small Town Here] Rescue Lost American Hiker." I decided to spend the night in the valley, wait until daybreak, and then continue to try to find my way out with better visibility.

Fortunately, a farmer had left his tool shed unlocked. I first raised my Nintendo 3DS pedometer step total to 100,084. I was so tired at that point, it was a battle just to stay awake — to keep myself awake while completing that last stretch of steps, I sang classroom English songs. I slept under a tarp that night in a cramped space in the tool shed between some kind of machine, some tools, and a pile of hay. It went below freezing and I had to huddle in the fetal position just to keep reasonably warm and not shiver. In the morning, just before 6:00 AM, I woke up. It wasn't the warm hotel bed I had been hoping for, but it had sufficed. I had gotten some sleep and was now ready to go. I took this picture of the interior of the tool shed in which I had spent the night:

The Exterior of the Shed Around 6:00 AM:

The Frozen Rice Paddy Next to the Tool Shed:

Tea Fields:

After a couple more hours of walking, I found a house deep in the woods, on a small mountain. An eccentric man lived inside. He had several cars in his front yard in various stages of rust and disassembly. When I first walked onto his property, I could hear geese honking inside his house. The man had a geese coop. Not only that — when the geese honked, he honked back! He spoke a bizarre dialect of Japanese that was almost 100% incomprehensible to me and was not very helpful. I think he just wanted me to get off his property ASAP. The few things I could make out were essentially "JUST FOLLOW THE CLEAN CONCRETE ROAD." Gee, thanks a lot, buddy.

Well, I kept wandering around and trying new paths. Eventually, I happened upon an elderly farmer illegally dumping his garbage on the mountain from his pickup truck (incidentally, during my hiking on the mountain, I saw all sorts of things people had discarded, from rice cookers to refrigerators). He very kindly took me into the nearest town, where a man named Ken drove me to the nearest JR railway station. Ken was also very nice. He not only drove me to the JR station, but also gave me some onigiri, cakes, and something to drink. Eventually, I entered Yokkaichi at 11:47 AM, just in time to get ready for work (which starts at 12:30 PM). Boy, did I have a story to tell my boss!

Did I reach Nara, as per my goal? I'm not sure. According to Google Maps, I was at most 2,000 feet away from the Nara border. I may very well have unknowingly crossed the border at some point during my attempts to get out of the mountains. I will probably never know if I stepped in Nara or not. However, I did enter Kyōto-fu, which proves I walked a distance of at least 63.4 kilometers on Sunday. I had aimed to walk 92+ kilometers to reach downtown Nara, but the Nara border was much, much closer to where I was.


I calculated my totals and found out on Monday that I had won the ELI Pedometer Challenge (though there was an error in the calculations that meant I had to wait until Tuesday night to be recognized for this). I believe this will be my last Pedometer Challenge, both because I plan to graduate with my AS in IT from NOVA this year, and also because I am sick of walking. However, I will point out that I feel like I'm in much better shape. I've probably dropped at least 5 kilograms, and wonder if a marathon isn't too far out of my reach. We shall see...

Pedometer Screenshots for the Fourth Week (proving my steps)

Note that for the last day (3/3), I photographed the Nintendo 3DS pedometer rather than the Yamasa single-function pedometer that I was ordinarily using by this point. The reason for this was that the Yamasa pedometer can only display five digits, and when it hits 100,000, it resets to 0 (albeit with leading zeros, so that 100001 would look like 00001). I didn't want there to be any confusion that I had broken the 100,000-step barrier, so I used the Nintendo 3DS, which is able to display over 100,000 steps in the Activity Log (though not on the main screen, where it caps them at 99,999). Had I gone by my Yamasa pedometer, I would have gone beyond 100,084 steps, but decided not to for the aforementioned reasons.