In July of 2015, during a whirlwind three-week trip to Japan, planned masterfully by my wife, we embarked on a two-day guided trudge to the summit of Japan's tallest (and most emblematic) mountain. It was wall-to-wall fog nearly the whole time, so we didn't see much in the way of stunning views, even when hauled our exhausted husks out of our hut at 3am to hike to the summit for the "sunrise." All we saw then was 80s-slasher-flick-thick mist, and the flashlights of fellow Fuji peak pursuers.
It poured much of the way, particularly on the way down, which was surprisingly much more painful and difficult than the climb up. I fell at least twice; the journey was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done, surprisingly tough mentally, and one of the best experiences I expect to have if I live to be spry, healthy, and wealthy at 100.
Some surprising items and events on the journey included beer vending machines at many of the mountain stations, and hot ramen and curry at the summit. The latter is made by workers who live up there during the months when the mountain is accessible by tourists. Oh, and to an affront to anyone who's ever struggled with connectivity in rural areas, the rustic cafe at the top of Fuji has both WiFi and 4G phone service that seemed about as good as what you'd expect to find at any given spot in central Tokyo.
In a display of sheer Japanese will (and more than a little insanity), there's even a post office near the peak that was actually open at 5am when I passed by on the way to the top. A few of my friends received some very special (though bent and slightly water-damaged) post cards several days later, bearing a special rubber stamp that can't be found anywhere else.
But the moment that stuck with me the most was when we passed some large, weathered poles we were told were stuck in the ground to prevent avalanches in the winter months.
Our guide informed us that people started wedging coins in them as an offering or wish.
In my soaked, exhausted stupor, I stopped here for a moment, trying to convince my overworked heart not to explode. I took in the transformed tree carcasses from top to bottom, and when my eyes hit the gravely ground, I spotted a dusty coin that had fallen out of a crack.
In a moment of reflexive decision, I took quick stock of my life and in one swift movement reached down, picked up a stranger's fallen wish, put it back in an empty spot in the pole, and continued my determined march up the mountain.
I was already climbing Fuji, already married to an amazing woman, and already writing for a living. Someone else's dream clearly deserves a second chance more than anything I would wish for at this point.
When my wife and I got to the next mountain station I dropped a coin of my own into a vending machine and swiftly downed the most delicious Kirin I've ever tasted in one satisfying glug. Then I thanked my heart for continuing not to explode, and we continued our trudge to the top.