...And it's even harder to concentrate on a hike when you are deep in conversation with three. Marcin and Hideyo joined us for this next section of the TSH. (He's been in country a mere 4 months, but they've already walked most of the Kyoto Loop Trail.) I don't remember much about the first half of the hike, except that the trail ran above a lovely stretch of the Settsu-kyo Gorge (a nice swimming spot), up past all the viper warning signs to a waterfall and beyond, along a series of newer sections in the form of raised wooden walkways that zigzagged through the trees like an Ewok village, the old trail overgrown and visible below. I also remember walking for a long while on a road. At one point, some guy stopped his truck to give us a half dozen freshly pulled onions. (It's a good thing to do these walks with two attractive women wearing tight T-shirts.) He was driving a small pickup truck bearing the logo for Kogen Giga Beer, but he didn't have any of those goodies, to our great disappointment.
I do remember the second half of the walk a little too well. As we began the ascent up Ryuōzan, a squall came in, forcing us to huddle under the trees while the skies opened like a faucet. More worrying was the lightning shooting horizontally through the clouds overhead. It seemed like the Dragon King didn't want us on his mountain that day. After a half hour, the light show had moved on, and we followed suit, into that rather persistent downpour. As we entered a clearing off to our right, we were alarmed to find out we'd been sheltering ourselves beneath the high electrical towers that climbed up from the valley.
There was no talking now as we made the final push up to the peak, the four of us spread out along the wooden steps, each in our own soaked and shivering and silent misery. There was a high four story wooden tower at the top, which offered some shelter but little of the view. What I could see was that the region around us was relatively clear, and that only this mountain was getting the full force of the storm. The Dragon King really didn't want us up here. We came to his shrine soon enough, at Hōchidera, its small altar in the middle of a pond, ringed by smaller altars to other, lesser serpent gods. (These are quickly becoming a theme lately.) And as we paid our respects, the rain fell away, then ceased.
We followed a series of stone steps for twenty minutes down to a bus stop beside a gas station. The owner, once he'd finished his goose step aerobics, told us that the storm had caused a blackout. While waiting for the bus, we tried to warm ourselves with hot vending machine tea, but never really warmed up until we got down to Ibaraki and had a bowl of cheap ramen, while the accompanying beer worked its magic against the fatigue.