(Originally published in ECC's ChuMagazine)

"Kid in a candy store."

That’s how I felt when I first got here. I'm from Michigan, a flat plot of land a day's drive from any respectable mountain, and suddenly I had a hundred hills within an hour radius.

Eight months later, I'm realizing the better idiom would be "bull in a china shop."

I'm not very good at planning my hikes. Sometimes I go with other folks and have to plan, but when I'm just taking a quick trip to Gifu to putz around I tend to find myself in some really odd places.

The other day I got off the train and headed toward a mountain that I thought I saw on Google Maps, but after about 30 minutes of walking I realized it was on the other side of the Kiso River. Rather than turn back, I kept following the narrowing riverbank in the hopes there was a bridge or something around the bend. It was getting rockier and steeper. But there must be something up ahead, right?

Two hours later, when I emerged—covered in scrapes, mud, and foliage from scaling the embankment and sewer drain—from a vine thicket on the side of an elevated Kakamigahara highway, I decided I should start planning my trips better.

But I've seen the other side of it, too. Back in August on Mt Fuji, my buddies and I had laid out a two-day itinerary, from train routes to trailheads. We summited at 4 am and watched the sunrise—with 300 of our closest friends. It was bustling, to the point where I didn't even need my own flashlight, and every now and then we'd pass a teen playing EDM from a Bluetooth speaker.

My favorite hikes have always straddled those extremes. Mt. Kinka, home to Gifu Castle and a squirrel park, has a cable car and plenty of tourists at the summit. But it also has a super-steep auxiliary trail that trades the switchbacks for a straight shot to the top. Just look for the one labeled "DANGER." And be sure to get ice cream before you head back down!

The last eight months have been… interesting. I've wandered through farms after dark, following the lights of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen; I've gotten lost on winding trails behind temples and monkey parks; I've met local climbers who insist that no, the station is that way. One time I was looking for a beach, turned a corner, and ended up at Legoland. That one wasn't really hiking, but still.

All I'm saying is if there's a sweet spot between underplanning and overplanning, I haven't found it yet. And if there's a limited pool of good judgement on earth, I'm doing you all a favor.
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