In the summer of 1993, I was crammed into a Daihatsu Mira in a dark parking lot on the outskirts of Sasebo Japan, playing a heated game of backseat baseball. I had just cleared 2nd base and was heading down to third when Fumiko grabbed my wandering hands and told me she had to go home. I tried to get her to stay, telling her that I was going out to sea in a few days and would not be back for three months. She said it was already far too late for her, having to drive two hours home to Nagasaki before getting up for work the next morning. I then told her that I would not take long, but this did not do much to further my cause. She gently pushed me back into my own seat, kissed me again and told me that she would stay the night tomorrow, a Friday, so that I would not feel so rushed.
She drove me back to the main gate of the base and dropped me off. I kissed her good-bye and then started walking slowly towards the gate guards until her car passed out of sight. Once she had escaped my field of vision, I changed directions and started making my way towards the area of Sasebo we called “The Four Corners”, the ghetto for US servicemen filled with a string of bars catering to the American servicemen stationed there. I was far too jubilant to go back to the ship and try to sleep. I had to work on Fumiko for about three months before I could even get her to go to a movie with me. Three weeks after that, I had just barely cleared second base. Now, after almost four months of effort, I was less than 24 hours away from closing the deal and in the mood to celebrate. I made for Shooter’s Bar, a Japanese gin joint owned by an American ex-serviceman, Steve Morgan who, though discharged more than two decades before, never got around to leaving the land of the rising sun. (In fact, a quick Yahoo! check during the writing of this article confirmed that he was still there and, though a little thinner, looking almost exactly the same as I remember him).
When I stepped through the door of Shooter’s, Steve was in usual form. Sitting on a stool behind the bar with a stainless steel beer mug in his hand filled with a fountain blended Chu-Hi, a drink consisting of Sho-chu rice vodka and a sour lime mixer that was as refreshing as it was an effective cure for the tragic affliction of sobriety. He poured me a chu-hi of my own, collected ¥800 from me and, after seeing the expression of glee that I could not seem to get off of my face, asked me if I finally got lucky. I answered that despite my best efforts, no. I also added that I expected that to change before the weekend started though.
“Why?” he asked while depositing my drink charge into the register. “You giving up and tackling one of your buddies on the drive north?”
“What?” I asked, not getting his insinuation.
“I thought you guys were leaving tomorrow afternoon to go climb Mt. Fuji.”
My heart sank. Even though I had just collected my leave papers before Fumiko picked me up and endured the taunts of my climbing partners about the hazards of hiking with blue testicles, I had forgotten all about that. I cursed and slammed my drink down before ordering another. I then cursed again.
Steve seemed to find amusement in my predicament. “So what are you going to do?”
I weighed the possibilities. If I went to Mt. Fuji, I would not see Fumiko for three months. We were set to return the evening before the ship got underway for the southern hemisphere. Climbing Mt. Fuji was a once in a lifetime event, though. It would be a challenge to overcome and something that I doubted that I would ever have the opportunity to do again. It was sure to be an accomplishment, replete with high adventure and if I conquered it in time to watch the sunrise from its summit, I was sure to be rewarded with a spectacular vision of awe-inspiring beauty that I would someday be able to tell my grandchildren about. Sleeping with Fumiko for the first time however, was also a once in a lifetime event. It was also a challenge that I had overcome and was sure to be an accomplishment replete with high adventure and, if I conquered her in time to watch the sunrise stream across her summits, I was sure to be rewarded with an equally spectacular vision of awe-inspiring beauty. I just probably should not be telling my grandchildren about it, though with my big mouth I’ll probably end up telling them in a tequila-fueled burst of indiscretion anyway.
Steve prodded me again for an answer while serving me my second Chu-Hi. “What are you going to do?”
I took a long drink out of my mug, looked him in the eye and answered, “Well, it looks like my buddies are going to have to brave that bitch on their own.”
Brad LaBrosse was a shipmate of mine and the motivation behind our planned excursion to climb Mt. Fuji. He did not take the news of me backing out very well. He ranted and raved, issued threats to beat me senseless and promised that I would not get any refund on the money I put down in advance for the rental car we were going to use to get us to the mountain. It did not matter. I was not going and there was nothing he could do to persuade me otherwise. The other three guys that were going directed impressive verbal assaults at me as well but I was resolute and unwavering in my determination to stay put. Still, the constant vindictive started to wear on me and after a few hours sought respite by skipping food to walk to the phones on the pier to call Fumiko. We discussed our plans for the evening and exchanged a lot of sweet talk but suddenly something occurred to her and her tone changed dramatically. “Aren’t you supposed to go to Mount Fuji with your friends today?” she asked.
I told her I had cancelled my trip to be with her and thought that she would be flattered. Instead, she sounded flabbergasted. She launched into a lengthy diatribe about how I should go with my friends and what a great experience it would be for me. I told her that nothing mattered more to me than spending the night with her but she stood her ground, saying that she did not want to endure the Yoko Ono references my friends would be directing at her if they thought my backing out of the trip was somehow her fault. I tried to reason with her but in the end she started crying and finally said that whether I went or not, she was not coming to Sasebo that night whether I went to Mt. Fuji or not. At that point I had no choice but to relent and then I had to sit through another fifteen minutes of tearful goodbyes while I silently damned Japan’s most distinguishing landmark and blamed it personally for the twelve weeks of sexual deprivation that lay ominously before me.
With my tail between my legs, I went back to the shop after I got off the phone and asked Brad if I could rejoin the trip with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. After considerable hesitation, he said that I could but did not seem much happier about giving me his blessing than I was asking about it. We went through the rest of day barely talking to each other until the call to knock off ship’s work came across the Belleau Wood’s PA system at 16:00 hours. A half hour after that call, three of us were gathered on the pier, a third had gone to pick up the rental car while the fifth, John Curran, was stuck somewhere on the ship trying to fix a piece of communications equipment that went down just before he was going to leave the shop to get his leave papers signed. Within an hour, Brad had returned with our rented station wagon and we had loaded up with everything but John was still being held captive inside the ship. At an hour and a half, my four traveling companions had re-boarded the ship to help John fix his radio while I, the group’s sole radar technician, was left to guard the car. Since crime was virtually unheard of in the part of Japan where I was stationed, I left my post after about twenty minutes and started pulling cans of Asahi out of the beer vending machine that was beckoning me from across the street of the parking lot. In the end, we left Sasebo about six hours behind schedule. Brad, John, Earl and Sean were infuriated by this but I was buzzed enough to not really give two shits.
Our original plan had us leaving Sasebo at four in the afternoon and arriving at Mt Fuji at about one in the morning. This was an erroneous estimate, faulty not because of a miscalculation of the distance but because of a gross underestimation of Japanese speed limits, the number of police cars patrolling the highways, Brad’s paranoia of getting pulled over and my determination to drink away the realization of what I was missing by spending the night in a confined space with four other guys and the numerous stops at public bathrooms along the way that this course of action resulted in. The trip took more than twelve hours. Twelve incredibly long, miserable hours driving mostly in darkness, unable to appreciate the scenery that surrounded us and far too uncomfortable to sleep. Everyone’s nerves were on edge through the entire drive and argued incessantly until exhaustion finally caught up with us sometime just before dawn. As the sun began to emerge from the Pacific Ocean somewhere off to our right, all the commuting combatants began petering out into a silent daze born of pure exhaustion and Brad became the first of us to finally drift off to sleep. Unfortunately he was the one behind the wheel at the time and after we just barely kept the car from rolling off of a steep embankment to a fiery death below we resumed verbal combat, not so much out of genuine anger anymore but just as a means of keeping the station wagon’s pilot from killing the entire lot us. To make matters worse, we soon found ourselves enveloped in a thick soup-like fog that made navigation all that much more difficult.
Two hours after the point where we initially planned to be at the summit of Mount Fuji, we finally arrived at the spot where we were going to start our ascent. This was a parking lot halfway up the side of the mountain, a mountain that, thanks to the fog, we had yet to actually see. We were all exhausted already but anxious to get going on the task we had driven 12 hours to perform. We stocked up on provisions at the parking lot station, which for me consisted of a chocolate bar for breakfast, a can of soda, a bottle of spring water, a pack of cigarettes and a wooden walking stick which, according to tradition, was supposed to be branded at each of the rest stations on the way up Mt. Fuji’s side. I then slipped on a leather bomber jacket and tied a sweat shirt around my waist in case it got chilly in the higher elevation. Everyone else dressed similarly except John, who put on a pair of thermal underwear, several layers of shirts, a government issued cold weather jacket that he misappropriated from somewhere on the ship and an obnoxiously furry hat with ear flaps that looked like a cross between the headgear worn by Soviet border guards patrolling the Siberian frontier and that animated monstrosity Elmer Fudd wore in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. It looked like some horribly disfigured flying rabbit had expired mid-flight and crash landed right on John’s melon. As we finally started up the mountain, we were all ribbing him pretty hard about his abominable taste in headwear.
The trail to the summit of Mt. Fuji is not a straight shot. It zig-zags all the way up nearly 4,000 meters on a narrow path compacted out of the volcanic ash and rock expelled from the bowels of the mountain the last time it erupted on November 24th, 1707. By doing this the incline is reduced considerably and though the distance one needs to traverse is much longer as a result, the journey is much, much easier. Or so they say. Frankly, by the time I reached the first bend I was ready to puke. Granted, at the time my nourishment was provided almost exclusively by the Kirin distilleries and I generally exhaled more carcinogenic smoke than a coal fired steel mill but even so, I was not alone in my discomfort. Earl, who was a little overweight, was not looking so good either and John, weighed down by almost twice his body weight in clothing and an atrocious hat that looked three times the side of his head, was barely keeping up. Brad and Sean were the only two doing fine. Brad was a fitness nut and Sean was an athlete, so they were conditioned for this sort of activity. I spent my time pursuing my vices, Earl spent his off hours playing Nintendo in the communications shop and as far we could tell, the most exercise John got was flipping through novelty catalogues in search of silly furry things to put on his head. We were not at all prepared for this.
In effect, our mountaineering party split into two groups. Earl, John and I stayed pretty close together with me leading the way only because my legs were longer than everyone else’s. Brad and Sean stayed out of sight, separated from us by the unrelenting fog and only connected to us by the sounds of their voices, shouting encouragement, taunts, insults and motivational clichés at us in an attempt to get us to hurry up. We only saw them at the rest stations, the first one having been reached twenty minutes before us, which gave them time to find out that no one was branding the walking sticks that day.
The wind started picking up after we cleared the second rest station, which is actually the seventh since we drove halfway up. Though the roar of it was deafening, it brought with it a bit of a chill that was actually somewhat refreshing. I had been working up quite a sweat by that point and it was nice to have the opportunity to cool down. The wind also brought with it some comic relief. As it slammed into John’s hat, it kind of bounced it around the top of his head and made it look like a disheveled wolverine was trying to chew its way through his skull to get at the small gray matter delicacy stored inside. The wind stopped becoming a matter to laugh about before reaching the third station however. At that point, it just got cold and the volume it produced blocked out every other noise, including the taunts from Brad and Sean above. It did not take long before I could not even hear the Earl and John screaming at me from just a few feet away.
At the eighth station, Brad and Sean had waited nearly a half hour for us and they were not happy about it. They decided that they were going to bring up the rear and push us forward in an attempt to push us forward which did not sit well with the rest of us. I told them that if they wanted to rush to the top, go for it. I told them that we would either meet them up at the top or that we would cross paths with them while they were on their way back down. They eventually chilled out a bit but said that they were going to stay close to us because the visibility was so bad. None of us had a problem with that so we left the eighth station, unbeknownst to us the last open station, as a group and tempers started flaring again shortly afterwards. Sean led the pack and set the pace, a brutal one that I was just barely able to keep up with. Brad drifted to the end of the line behind John, who had started to lag significantly. The wind got even worse, the fog never lifted a bit and the cold had gone from extremely uncomfortable to outright painful. The oxygen had also thinned out noticeably and no matter how deeply I inhaled, I got very little out of it. I was fine when I was standing still, but even the slightest exertion seemed to take my breath away. My muscles were in terrible agony and it was a painful battle just to keep my legs moving.
At some point during the climb, the wind died down enough for me to hear Brad harassing John at the back of the line. John was falling behind and though I could not see them, I formed a mental image of Brad walking beside him shouting insults and orders directly into his ear to keep him moving, making the endeavor even less enjoyable for him than it already was. I felt my blood boiling at this and my temper just about ready to burst. I turned to make my way down there to put an end to it but hesitated thinking that my fury could be just a result of the misery I was in and I did not want to overreact. Brad and John were actually the best of friends and if John was annoyed, he could tell Brad himself. Instead of blowing up, I just decided to try and think of something other than my predicament as I wearily trudged back up the mountainside. I started thinking of Fumiko and the night that we would be enjoying if I had never been intrigued by the idea of climbing some Godforsaken mountain. I thought of her lying seductively on a futon, wearing nothing but a silk sheet draped loosely across her chest. I then pictured her rolling over towards me as the sheet fell away and exposed her breasts. I then noticed that the physical condition that these thoughts brought out made an already difficult hike much, much harder and knew that I had to think of something else.
We had come upon a torii, a wooden gate-like Shinto structure that you were supposed to look through to get a view of nature at its most breath-taking when we got another brief respite from the wind. Once again, I heard Brad still barking at John like a Marine Gunnery Sergeant with PMS and I settled upon the next pleasant thought I was going to fill my head with to take my mind off of the cold. I pictured myself grabbing Brad by the neck, dragging him up to the torii and pitching him right through it to his death at the bottom of the endless chasm that I imagined must be waiting below. At that point however, this violent fantasy proved only more arousing so I stopped to let Brad and John catch up. Sean stopped as well without protest and I could see that he was shivering uncontrollably, the first visible chink in his athletic armor. He was finally able to start feeling the climb as well. Actually by the time Brad got to the torii, he had given up the drill sergeant routine also and was moving considerably slower. I think in his case it was the thin oxygen combined with the irregular breathing that came with so much shouting that was beginning to wear on him. “You having fun, John?” I asked.
With no attempt to conceal his sarcasm, John looked up and said, “I’m having a blast. How about you, Earl?”
Earl cussed and spat through the torii. “Great fucking idea, Brad.”
Brad seemed taken aback by the sudden show of open contempt and looked to Sean for some support. Sean withheld commenting which, though not exactly a sign of allegiance, was not exactly a vote of confidence either.
“C’mon guys,” Brad pleaded. “The whole point of this thing is supposed to be about overcoming the challenge of it. That’s what builds camaraderie. Don’t tell me you’re turning back now.”
I shook my head. “I think that if we were going to turn back, we should have done so at the second station we passed. I think it’s a little late to turn back now. Just lay off and quit making this climb worse than it has to be. You want to go fast, go fast. Just don’t try to force John, Earl or me to keep up with you. Fucking back off!”
Had we been in a more comfortable environ, we probably would have argued a lot longer. It was just too cold to keep standing still though so we quickly exchanged mutual apologies and moved on. By the time we reached the ninth station, we found ourselves walking in ankle deep snow and were practically frozen solid. We found the ninth station closed and hence, were unable to get a break from the frigid temperatures that we desperately needed. This was a huge hurdle. I had no doubt that I could continue on if I had the chance to warm up, but I was beginning to suspect that I had a clinical case of hypothermia setting in. I was feeling disoriented, was shivering uncontrollably and I was not alone. All of us were in pretty bad shape at this point, even Brad and Sean who were struggling with the amount of exhaustion that we were but were meeting their defeat at the hands of the freezing temperatures. In fact, I believe that it was Sean that was the one who first suggested turning back.
I can not remember the short discussion that followed or how the consensus was reached to continue our ascent. All I know was that it was a huge mistake. The ankle deep snow went knee deep in a flash and we were continuing on at a snail’s pace. Eventually we even lost the trail and could not even find footprints to follow to reassure ourselves that we were on the right path. We were waist deep when we came across a wooden shack that we assumed to be the final station though it appeared far smaller and lacking the conveniences of the others we had seen. It was locked but we found a loose board at the base and pried it open to crawl underneath. It did not provide any warmth but did a decent job of shielding us from the wind. As we were huddled inside we tried to figure out what to do next. Four of us decided that we’d had enough and were making our way down. Brad thought we were virtually at the summit and wanted to go a little bit further. We refused and he asked if we would at least wait in the shack a little longer while he tried. Despite our better judgment, we said we would and he set off by himself. A couple minutes later Sean took off after him, not to try to follow Brad to the summit, but to keep the idiot from killing himself by dragging his dumb ass back.
After Sean left, I tried to take stock of my condition. My exposed ears were numb and painful to touch as were my hands and feet. My clothes were soaked through from trudging through the snow. Now that I had stopped moving, I could feel that the muscles in my legs were cramping up as well. I was shaking violently and my teeth were chattering as if trying to play the surfing classic “Wipeout” in Morse Code. I was also getting very sleepy which I was the most concerned about. I reached into my jacket and pulled out my pack of Marlboros for a nicotine boost.
As I tried to light my cigarette, John shook his head in disgust. “You know, I would think that you would want to conserve your lung capacity up here.”
I shrugged through my shivering. “I also don’t want to fall asleep.”
Earl, an occasional smoker, nodded in agreement. “You mind if I get one of those?” I passed him one and let him jump start it off of mine. After a couple of long drags off of it, he turned to me and said, “If nothing else, it kind of feels good to breathe in some warm air.”
The words “warm air” seemed to pique John’s interest. “You mind if I try one of those?”
Now John, though one of the most genuinely nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of being an acquaintance of, was a classic example of a nerdy goody-two-shoes to the extreme. He had no discernible vices and I doubt he had ever even remotely considered trying tobacco. I could not pass up the opportunity to try to corrupt him. I lit a cigarette up for him and handed it to him. He took a drag off of it and filled up his mouth with smoke. He then pushed it out from between his two cheeks without drawing it into his lungs. He then looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t do anything for me.”
“That’s because you didn’t inhale.” I took another drag off of my cigarette, turned to him and opened my mouth so that he could see the smoke and then drew in a breath so he could see it get pulled down my throat.
John mimicked my moves exactly. He filled his mouth with smoke, opened his gaping mouth so that I could see the smoke and took a long deep breath of air. He then seemed to explode as his lungs rebelled and expunged the putrid air back up through his esophagus in a blast so violent that it blew frozen snot and spit clear across the space we were in, narrowly missing Earl and I. He then erupted into a ferocious fit of hysterical coughing so violent that I began to doubt if he would be able to retain consciousness. As John rolled around on the ground gasping for what little air was available for him a felt my frozen ears. I then turned to Earl and said, “If he passes out, I get that hat.”
While Earl and I were teaching John how to smoke at 12,000 feet, Sean was chasing Brad up the side of Mt. Fuji. He could not make visual contact at all but was able to follow the trail he left in the snow. Sean would stop every once in a while to yell after him but knew it was a futile effort. The wind was just too strong and loud. He could barely hear himself let alone hope that Brad would somehow register his cries. Right at the point where he thought he could not go on any more, the ground leveled out. He had reached the summit. He laid himself down in the snow for a second to recoup some strength and then sat up to survey the view before him. He saw the same thing he had seen since just after sunrise: a suffocating envelope of impenetrable gray fog that gave up no shapes outside of ten feet. As he filled his lungs up to call out for Brad one last time, he heard his climbing comrade shout from somewhere beside him, “We made it!”
Sean rolled over towards the voice until he could see him and said, “Yeah, I guess we did!”
“You think it was worth it?”
Sean got up to start his descent. “I’ll let you know if we make it back.”
We told Brad that we would give him a half hour. We gave him forty-five minutes. Fearing that something had gone wrong, I got up and told my two shack mates that it was time to go down. Earl shook his head and wanted to give them more time. I told him that if they were stuck somewhere, they needed help fast and the best way to get it to them is to get down to the last occupied station and have someone who actually knows their way around that mountain go look for them. Earl was still adamant and offered to go up and look for them himself. “Why?” I asked. “You think it would be easier for the rescuers to go searching for three people instead of two?”
Earl remained defiant and we sat around arguing about it for another ten minutes. After he told me to get stuffed and went outside to try following their footsteps, I decided that I had to pull rank, which one never wants to do with his friends. I burst out of the shack after him and yelled for him to get back over to me. I was on the verge of adding “AND THAT’S AN ORDER!” when I saw Brad and Sean emerge from the fog above us, half running and half tumbling down the snowy mountainside. They came to rest at the base of the shack and announced that they had reached the summit.
“No shit?” I asked. “How far up is it?”
“Just a couple of hundred feet!” Brad answered. “You want me to guide you guys up there?” I appreciated the offer but knew that he only made it because he was pretty certain that none of us would be taking us up on it. Immediately upon my polite refusal he said, “Then go get John and let’s get the hell down from here.”
The descent down Mt. Fuji was infinitely easier with gravity working to our advantage. In fact, about fifteen minutes down, we hit a point where the fog just instantly disappeared as if we had just fallen out of a cloud. In fact, we looked up above us after we were suddenly immersed in daylight and saw that essentially that is exactly what we had just done. That fog we were stuck in all day was basically a huge cloud that practically enveloped the entire mountain when we arrived, but gradually migrated higher and higher up the mountain as the strengthening heat of the sun burned it away from the bottom up. Before long, the wind died down as well and we began unthawing very rapidly. Able to finally see what was below us, we gave up on the trail and just jumped down the mountain side. Mt. Fuji is covered with a thick blanket of dusty ash that makes for a soft landing and a fun descent. The sensation of jumping off of the trail is unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since. You get this seemingly momentary sense of weightlessness as you plummet thirty feet through the air only to land into a plume of cushioning dust that painlessly breaks your fall. It was kind of like we were frolicking on the face of the moon.
Though our spirits were euphoric when we reached the eight station, the highest occupied one, we were still looking very bedraggled. When we stepped inside it was nearly empty except for what we assumed to be Japanese workers a couple of European hikers and an Australian who asked us how far we got. Since the question seemed directed at me, I answered. “Three of us got to within a couple hundred feet of the summit.” I then pointed at Brad and Sean. “These two morons made it all the way.”
The Australian shook his head. “It’s a good thing no one had to go up there and get you down. You could’ve been in some trouble if someone had to go up a closed course to pull your asses down.”
“The course wasn’t closed. We walked right up there.”
The Australian gave me a look that betrayed the surprise he felt at the depth of my stupidity. “By any chance did you notice that there was no one else on the trail past this station?”
Our group kind of eyed each other up in puzzlement before I answered him. “Well, now that you mention it….”
Though I don’t remember the exact timing, if I had to guess I would say that it took us almost nine hours to get to the top of the mountain. It seemed like it only took about forty-five minutes to get down. When we did, we made a quick stop at the concession stand and then drove back down the mountain in search of a public restroom we could wash up in. John stumbled across a building that appeared to have pay showers in it, which caused a stampede of five filthy sailors, all of whom were trying to get into one first. There were four stalls and I was fortunate to not be the one who had to wait to get in. That was Sean who put his time to productive use and found a vending machine that he was able to pull five victory beers out of for us to drink while we showered.
I knew that I was tired but did not fully appreciate just how tired I was until a powerful stream of hot water started rolling down my back. It seemed like every muscle in my body just melted right there and I had to fight the urge to just crumple into a heap of mush right there. I’m sure the feeling was not quite as amazing as what I would have felt if I had been with Fumiko that evening, but I bet it was probably pretty close. I did not even bother to wash. I just leaned my head up against the wall and let the water do its work.
Our shower was rudely interrupted by an old woman who belligerently barged in on us and opened up with a rapid stream of vindictive Japanese. Sean, who had not yet been in the shower asked me what she was saying. I spoke a little of the Kyushu dialect of Japanese, but we were on the island of Honshu and what she was yelling at us was about as intelligible to me as the lunatic ravings of a deranged orangutan. Without even looking up at her, I ran my head through the warm water and said, “I have no idea. I’m guessing she’s probably not too happy about having a bunch of pagan Gai-jin contaminating the local bathing facilities. She probably thinks we’re going to piss in the showers or something.” I might also add that if that was her concern, it was not an unfounded one. Especially in my case though by that point it was too late for her to do anything about it.
After the old lady stormed out, Sean asked, “You think we should go?”
I stepped out of the shower and left the water running. “Was she in uniform and carrying a gun?”
“Then don’t worry about it. If the cops show up we’ll just plead ignorance.” After I got dressed and walked outside I noticed a sign outside the door of the shower room that clearly indicated it was a women’s facility. I never told the other guys but luckily for them, it was in one of the more remote areas of the park and we were long gone by the time anyone showed up to do anything about it, if they ever did at all.
We left the showers and ended up in a yakitori house where we ate some charbroiled chicken kebobs and sucked down a bowl of yakisoba. We then got back in the car with the intention of driving as far as we could before trying to find a hotel. In an unbelievable feat of endurance, Sean drove almost straight through back to Sasebo at a breakneck speed while Brad, John and Earl slept. I tried to sleep but failed miserably, just too cramped in the station wagon to get comfortable. When I finally got out of the car on back on base, I could barely move. The slightest exertion of any muscle would send excruciating bolts of pain throughout my entire body and climbing the stairs up the Belleau Wood’s gangplank proved almost more difficult than the climb up Mt. Fuji. I collapsed in my rack with a newfound appreciation for the Japanese proverb I had heard several times before embarking upon my trip:
Wise men climb Mt Fuji. Fools climb it twice.
It was much harder than I thought it would be and I did not not really want to do it at the time, but looking back twelve years later, I'm very glad I did.
I slept through that entire day and most of the following night. Even though I got back home a day earlier than planned, I could not conjure up the energy to see Fumiko before we set sail after the Independence Day weekend. I could not even muster up enough strength to get up and eat. We did get back together after I got back though but I’m saving that story for the day my grandkids drive me to hit that bottle of tequila a little earlier in the day than I am accustomed to.