Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boar and Border Guards: Minamisoma Redux Part 1

Last weekend I had another opportunity, courtesy of Andrew Coad, to make another volunteering run to Minamisoma. Truck drivers for relief supplies had already been secured, but it turned out that my car and I could be of service in getting some of the Tokyo volunteers to Fukushima and back. Andrew and part of the group would meet in Ginza near his office, and the rest of the group would meet me at the Black Lion in Meguro. Departing separately at 17:00 Friday night, we'd rendezvous at the Adatara Service Area near the end of the expressway part of the trip, then I'd follow him to our lodgings for the night.

Except for a stuck disk rendering my car's CD player unusable, everything went pretty smoothly, considering. Considering that getting out of Tokyo by car on a Friday night involves getting stuck in traffic moving at glacial speeds until one passes the point where most drivers head east toward Chiba and west toward Saitama. That was expected and inevitable, however, and we made rather good time to Adatara.

We met the rest of the party, ate a late dinner (or in my case smoked numerous cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee), and headed off around 22:00 into the mountains of Fukushima. We'd be driving on dark, winding, up-and-down roads to get to our overnight accommodation in Kashima about 60 kilometers away, and the plan was to leave early the next morning for the volunteer center in Odaka, about 40 minutes' drive to the south.

We'd originally figured on about two hours for this leg of the trip, reasonable given the road conditions and the frequent patches of heavy fog scattered throughout the mountains. A navigation glitch got us on the wrong road for a while, but given the direction was more or less the same it didn't seem to be a problem. At one point just after Andrew paused at a stop sign at a deserted intersection, a wild boar charged out of the underbrush at the side of the road, skittering and gazing at Andrew's taillights to his left and my headlights to his right, and then charged off cross the road and vanished. He was fairly big, but not quite fully grown, I'd guess. A teen-aged boar, perhaps, surprised at the unexpected late-night invaders in his neighborhood.

We kept on, making fairly good time and more or less on schedule, until we encountered a police-manned roadblock. We had inadvertently reached the edge of the exclusion zone, and the police were politely adamant that we would proceed no further, but must turn back and take a different route. By this time fatigue was beginning to set in after seven or so hours on the road, but we retraced part of the foggy mountain route, got onto a viable new one, and eventually reached our destination around one in the morning.

The vending machine beer nightcap tasted great, and the futon-on-tatami bed was comfortable, indeed.

I surprised myself by waking an hour earlier than necessary, and in much better condition than I had expected. The others were soon up and ready to go, and we set off for Odaka.

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