Phantom wild boars
Ever since my adventure on Mt Hiei, I have been experiencing mild wild boar phobia. I made the grave mistake doing some Google research wild boars. Even since familiarizing myself with the signs that a wild boar might be in the vicinity, I see them. Everywhere.
It’s been rather harrowing. I keep telling myself, if wild boars routinely attacked hikers in the forest around Kyoto, I would know about it by now! But sometimes, if I am alone in the forest, a deep paranoia strikes me. I hear a rustle in the bushes, then realize it’s only a bird, startled by my movements. I peer at the ground, looking for cloved hoof prints in churned up patches of earth. I sniff deeply, trying to decide if the funk I detect is decaying wood or angry boar. The terrifying image of a wild boar charging and ripping apart my legs with its sharp tusks flashes through my mind.
This new-found fear hasn’t grown severe enough to keep me out of the woods around Kyoto. With only two weeks until my first Japanese trail race, I managed to get in 75K of running and some decent vert as well. Here’s how it went down.
Monday: Rest day, 45 minutes of easy yoga.
Tuesday: 8K easy along the Kamogawa river. There are so many birds along the river, herons, egrets, ducks and crows mostly. These are city birds, and they are used to seeing runners. Although the ducks and crows are commonplace to me, I still haven’t quite gotten over the novelty of watching a stately heron strolling along the river.
An egret struts its stuff on the Kamogawa river.
Wednesday: A repeat of Damonjiyama, a small peak on the outskirts of Kyoto, for 17.7K. I was feeling tired but coaxed myself out nonetheless. I think Damonjiyama might be my favorite trail run around Kyoto so far. This time I didn’t mess around too much taking pictures, and as a result took a couple of crowns on Strava. Experienced mild boar phobia throughout.
Thursday: I probably pushed myself too hard on Wednesday as I felt fatigued on Thursday. I decided to take an extra rest day and did some easy yoga just to stretch out.
Friday: 10K easy along the river, and back via the Imperial Palace. I like that I can choose to run really flat in Kyoto. That’s a luxury I’ve never had in Norway. Running flat makes me feel like superwoman, since my times around automatically much faster than they would be on the hilly terrain back home!
Saturday: I took the train to the picturesque Arashiyama district to explore some new trails. Unfortunately, I was cut off by the road I was planning to run becoming private only 2K into my run and wasn’t able to complete the loop I had plotted out. I ran back to Arashiyama proper, fuming about the stupidity of private roads. I finally picked up the Kyoto Trail on the outskirts of Arashiyama. The trail led me up to a little viewpoint in the forest. On the way up, the boar phobia set in for real. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the patches of earth that I had convinced myself could only be the result of a boar rooting for food.
A view of Arashiyama from the boar-infested forest.
It was a hazy, hot day, and by the time I stumbled out of the forest and back onto the pavement I felt hot and bothered. The water in my backpack was warm and tasted plastic-y, but I was able to supplement it with a can of Orangina from one of the ubiquitous vending machines. I churned out the final few kilometers along the Katsura river to the train station, and collapsed in a stinky puddle on the train back to the city center. If only autumn would start for real!
Sunday: After some major deliberating on what to do with my Sunday, I decided to run another piece of the Kyoto Trail, from northern Kyoto to Arashiyama. I started by taking the bus out to Kinkakuji, the famous Golden Pavilion temple. I was eager to get to trails and bypassed the temple, promising myself I would go back on another day for sightseeing. I jogged up through a residential district, and took a path up some stairs through the woods, glaring at an ominous sign depicting snarling wolves chasing small children. There aren’t really wolves here? I thought incredulously, what on earth is that sign trying to tell me?
I veered off the road onto a singletrack trail that wasn’t marked, except for a ‘wildlife protection area’ sign at the entrance. Oh great, I thought, They’re protecting the boars now. A little afraid the trail might dead end (or lead to a nest of boars), I was surprised to find it weaving pleasantly through the forest, dovetailing a charming river. I was absolutely certain I would see a boar now, on this unmarked route, and my heart was in my throat the whole time.
The climbing eventually started, winding steeply up the hillside towards a small lake called Sawanochi. I wasn’t on the Kyoto Trail yet, but there were some small trail signs in illegible Japanese that at least indicating that this was hiking trail. The forest encroached on the trail, and I was hunched over, occasionally holding my hands in front of my face to push away overgrown bushes.
At the top of the climb, the trail joined the Kyoto Trail, and I breathed a sigh of relief. There is something comforting about the official-looking signs of the Kyoto trail, mounted on stout, immovable poles. The Kyoto Trail always looks like it’s going somewhere.
Now the Kyoto Trail took me back down the hill, first on technical singletrack, then on a pleasantly runnable forest road. I was next led onto a paved road in a small village, and was jogging along when a whole convey of small pick-up trucks carrying oddly-drssed men with a series of gold statues appeared. At first I wondered if they were monks, but a whole passel of schoolboys in similar garb showed up behind them. It must have been a religious ceremony of some sort...
Anyone know what these people could be up to?
I didn’t stay to figure out what was going on, but instead took the Kyoto Trail off the road and down to a pleasant path along the river that winds its way towards Arashiyama. The river is deep in the recesses of a steep, wooded hillside, and reminded me vaguely of Vermont, my home state.
Beautiful running along the river
Once again the lovely trail dumped me on a road. I nearly ran past the little red archway, but stopped when I saw the sign for ‘Mt Atago’. Recognizing the name of one of the larger peaks around Kyoto that I had been meaning to get up, I spontaneously decided to throw an extra mountain into my outing. I went hard uphill, relishing the long, steady climb, passing more hikers than I had seen all day. This was clearly a popular outing. The summit of Mt Atago is (of course) a big temple. I stopped at the entrance, wondering if I had to pay to go in, but decided to just turn around. I was starting to run out of food and water, so I didn’t want to idle any longer than I had to.
The summit of Mt Atago
The descent was a delight, perfect technical trail that wasn’t too steep so I could really bomb down it, channeling my inner Kilian. Some hikers stopped to cheer me on and asked if I was training for the Olympics.
The view of Kyoto city from Mt Atago.
Back at the base of the mountain, I ground up and over the hill to Arashiyama. I was completely out of water at this point, and regretted only bringing a 5000 yen bill with me - the vending machines don’t take those! The closer I got to the Arashiyama train station, the thicker the crowds of tourists grew. I eventually gave up weaving through the crowds and stopped to buy a roasted tea soft serve ice cream and walk the last kilometer to the station.
Roasted tea soft serve, a Japanese treat!
- The Wild Bazilchuk