Saturday, May 28, 2016

BOH Eco Trail Run 2016 Race Report

I wonder why they call it a fun run when it is anything but! Jokes aside, this morning's Boh Eco Trail run was really a pretty much fun filled affair and I had a good time even though I was struggling along the trails of the lovely Boh tea plantation in Bukit Cheeding, Banting.

Dammit, another medal? Can't the bum bring
home some snacks for a change!

I almost didn't make this trail run cos of two reasons. One, I'm not a trail running person and my last trail run was about two years ago, which incidentally was also the Boh Trail run which was held in Cameron Highlands. Two was because I got the invite a little late due to some email issues. But all things worked out and I decided I'd take up the complimentary media invite by Boh Malaysia. Besides it was held on a Saturday and didn't interfere with my marathon training plan in any way.

The Boh Eco Trail run is basically a fun run to raise awareness among the public on peat preservation and forest fire prevention. All the proceeds from the run would go towards the Global Environment Centre's work in the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR).

Peatland forests are the most important ecosystem globally for preventing global warming and Malaysia has the third largest surface area with this type of forest. In their natural state, peat swamp forests rarely burn. However, excessive draining of water can lead to the peat being susceptible to fires. With temperatures soaring higher in this El NiƱo season, the peatland has lost much water and become vulnerable to fires. In recent years, fires in neighbouring areas have also spread into the KLNFR and damaged part of the forest reserve.

All systems go!
So, come race morning, my wife and me woke up bright and early to head out to the race location which was not really too far away from home. According to the Google map coordinates provided, it was just a short 30 minute drive away. Everything was going fine and the directions by Google maps were spot on at least until we were 8 minutes (supposedly) away when Google which always gives you the fastest route possible took us to a new gated residential neighbourhood and expected us to drive through it across the gates and into the plantation!

Obviously this was the fastest way there before but that was before this new neighbourhood went up and the area got fenced off. Guess the Google street car needs to make its way around these parts again. I was adamantly arguing with the guard and saying Google maps say we have to go this way. I guess he got fed up and let me in and told me to go see for myself that this was the only way in and out.

With the Orang Asli children

After a drive around the neighbourhood, I sheepishly made my way out again and I could see the 'I told you so' look on his face. As I was exiting the gate, I saw a few other cars that were also sent the same way as I was by Google maps. At least that proved I wasn't really a doofus after all. A few quick calls to the PR company that sent the invite to me and I was on my way in the right direction. The route took a wide circle around from where I was and another 30 minutes of driving on the SKVE highway.

After an uneventful drive, we finally reached the race start location with still plenty of time to spare. Cars were already filling up and parking was limited but I managed to get a bay just a few minutes walk away from the venue. The place was wet and muddy since it rained the night before and I knew things would get a little messy. It was time for me to gear up, which was really minimal since it was an 8km trail and according to the literature, was well supported.

Are we there yet?

Gear for me was a green Saucony Hrydralite top and Inferno half tights with my spanking new Peregrine 6. I was eager to see how it performed since I've read so much good things about the shoe. Once I was ready it was straight to the race venue to pick up my bib and wait for race start. My wife was busily snapping pictures and told me she would be ready to get a vain shot of me when I got back ... LOL!

The start of the race was a surprise cos I was still walking to the flag off location when the start horn blared. I gave my wife a 'what the heck' look and started off with a slow trot cos the start was uphill. I wasn't even warmed up and my calves were tight as hell. I knew this was going to be a difficult run. I haven't run or trained for trails in nearly two years and any trail runner worth their salt would know that trail running is an entirely different ballgame altogether.

Runners flagged off
Soon enough I was overtaking all the more enthusiastic runners who bolted off at the start, many of whom were in regular road shoes. I'm not sure how they were going to keep their footing with road shoes on. I was cruising at an easy 6:30 pace but my calves were still taut as steel! The legs were taking a lot longer than usual to loosen up. By the first water stop, I decided to stop and walk for a bit and this was where Evelyn caught up with me.

I decided to stick with her cos having some company would take the mind off the troublesome tight legs. And anyone who has run with Evelyn knows that running with her is never boring. We ran, walked, hobbled, enjoyed the view and chatted all the way until we reached the peat forest section of the trail which was really my favourite part of the entire run. Since the trail was very narrow, I went off ahead on my own. This short stretch really got my rhythm back up and I picked up my pace.

The beautiful scenic view inside the plantation

Soon I was out of the peat forest only to be welcomed by volunteers serving freshly cut coconuts. This was a sight to behold. I think I spent quite a bit of time here savouring the refreshing coconut water, which was actually a bad call cos by the time I was done my tummy was so full of water that you could hear it swish as I ran along!

There was about 2 km left to go and I decided to step up the pace. I was so focused with my running that I completely didn't notice my wife, who had walked 1.5km into the trails taking pictures. I only realized it was her until she called out to me shouting 'woi, I can't chase you down, la!'. You have to give me some slack cos she was dressed in green and looked just like the rest of the volunteers .. LOL!

Stopped to let her take some pics and she told me to quickly continue, which I did. The last 1.5k was done quickly and I was finally done. To be honest, I was winded. This took a lot out of me. I really need to work on my trail running again after the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.

The complimentary BOH tea packs
Waited for the wife to comeback from her photo taking in the trails, mingled for a bit and we decided to head back early cos I was hungry and needed a proper breakfast. Overall, it was a very well organized event and the volunteers did a great job. Each and everyone I passed had some words of encouragement to keep the participants going.

I'd like to thank BOH Malaysia for the invite and I must say I really did have a good and enjoyable time running through their tea plantation. The view was breathtaking and the peat forest trail was simply awesome!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When Life Hands You Watermelons ...

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon is seriously just around the corner. There's really not many more weeks left till I board the plane to the Gold Coast again. Training for me has only really just got into gear, what with being sidelined from a meniscus tear for close to two months plus. That really was plain depressing.

As it is, my training plan had to be heavily modified to cater for my comeback and that really doesn't leave me with much training time. I've been really careful with my comeback. The past year has seen me making it a habit of getting injured just before race day and I don't intend for that to happen again. Ever!

My dog doesn't seem impressed with my achievements!

I've been on a very easy plan coming back with lower mileages unlike the previous 15-20-15k back to back that I've been doing on a weekly basis. Even my rest days have been increased and I have to make sure that each and every session is a quality one cos I don't have the liberty nor nearly enough time for a proper structured plan. 

I'm slowly but surely coming back to some semblance of fitness and hopefully that'll be enough to see me to a decent finish in the Gold Coast. I have to run smart and really plan my strategy on race day if I'm to make it to the finish in the personal goal I set for myself.

Prior to race start

The training with the gang has been very helpful to put me back into gear and I'm grateful for their company. My wife has also been helpful in my recovery and has taken on the mantel of being my unofficial coach to get me back on proper footing. With some focus, I'll hopefully be able to pull something off in GC. I just have to believe in myself.

All that aside, sometimes running just needs a dose of fun, which was why when I was offered a complimentary slot for the Watermelon Relay, I took it up. I buzzed the gang to see who wanted to join me and Choon Yuen and Yan Leng gamely took up my offer. This wasn't in anyway going to help with any of our training but we just wanted to have some fun. Besides, Jamie so kindly switched our training day from Sunday to Saturday so the three of us could run the race.

This looks easy, or so I thought!

The Watermelon Relay requires one to run with a 2kg watermelon for a 3km plus loop around the Metropolitan Park in Kepong, with each team member running one loop each. How hard could it be, we thought. How badly wrong we were on that count! A 2kg watermelon is not something one should take lightly, especially when you have to run with it.

So, come race day, Choon Yuen, Yan Leng along with Jeanie, Piew, Choo, Yeehoo, Foo and Kai Mun met up much earlier to get in a pre-run along the park before the race. Before heading off for the pre-run, Choon Yuen wisely suggested we pick up our 'watermelon baton' first which was a good thing, cos the late comers got even bigger watermelons! 

The gang out in full support on the course

After stowing away our watermelon, it was a loop around the park. I've run here before and never really liked the park for its numerous highs and lows littered throughout half the park. Even a regular run around here was mental, let alone running with a watermelon. This was when I was questioning my sanity. 

The race started with the team challenge category flagging off first followed by us fun runners 15 minutes later. I took the first leg, seeing as how I was currently the slowest of the three and was hoping they'll take up whatever time deficit I incur. Soon it was time for me to start and Choon Yuen told me to position myself at the front. This was a fun run but we were still pretty competitive deep down inside. 

Run like you stole a watermelon!

The imaginary gun went off (a shout really) and off I went. The first kilometer was the toughest part of the route with 3 rolling inclines. Since we had done the pre-run earlier, I was already warmed up and was instantly on a speedier start setting. I managed to get in front of everyone and was instantly in a 4:30 pace which bloody surprised me cos I haven't done that kind of pace since before my injury. 

This though, was when I discovered that running with a watermelon was not only difficult but nearly impossible. My arms were already uncomfortable and I was switching the watermelon from one hand to the other. And this was only 600 metres in the race. I managed to keep that pace throughout the first kilometer but with the watermelon already weighing me down, the pace began to deteriorate.

No, seriously, we have to finish this?

The next kilometer was getting painful for the arms. I just couldn't find a comfortable spot to hold the watermelon and it nearly slipped off my hand three times which would have resulted in a penalty of another loop for all three of us. Good thing we had gloves on cos that helped a great deal. The final kilometer was even worse. My hands could hardly hold the watermelon. My pace was completely shot by then and I even had to resort to walking for a bit even though my legs were fine, it was the arms that needed the break. 

Up to this point no one overtook me though I was already overtaking lots of the team challenge runners who started earlier. I realized we had a good chance of getting somewhere with this, especially when I glanced behind and saw the second placed runner about 700-800 metres behind me. It was time to move my butt again and around this time I saw Foo and Kai Mun in the distance. My spirits lifted cos it's always good to see your training mates there supporting you.

Mmmmm, yummy! Not!

After some quick and fun exchanges, I headed off to the start area to hand off my 'baton' to Yan Leng who was our second runner. I mentioned to her that we may be the first team back, she acknowleged me and off she went. With that, my race was over for the moment. Yan Leng ran her leg pretty fast and was soon back for Choon Yuen to go. At his current fitness level I expected him to come back pretty fast and he didn't disappoint. He was back in a flash!

Now for the final part of the race where the three of us had to eat and finish our watermelon before we were allowed to cross the finish line. Let me tell you it wasn't a decent sight watching us dig into the watermelon trying to finish it. The only good thing was the watermelon was sweet and tasty but I for one won't be eating anymore watermelons for the next 6 months minimum!

My two speedy team-mates!

Once done, we ran the final short distance to cross the finish. I was surprised when they placed a tag around Choon Yuen's neck and was ecstatic to see the words 1st place printed on it! We had done it, we kept our cool, ran a good race and for the first time in our life, well mine anyway, came in first placing. We didn't care that it was a fun run, first place was still first place .. LOL!

After some quick photo sessions, we headed off to change and come back for the prize giving a little later. All three of us were pretty happy and we were walking around deliriously. After changing, we came back to get our hamper which we shared amongst us and finally headed back home, totally happy.

Find Your Strong

While it was not anything competitive, it was still fun and is what running should be like. It's not always about running marathons or ultra marathons for that matter, sometimes you need to let your hair down, those with hair anyway, and just have fun. And in the process, if you actually win something, that's a bonus.

Now bring on the Durian challenge ... Hahaha!

Pic credit goes to Jeanie, Foo and Choon Yuen

Friday, April 1, 2016

Saucony Kinvara 7: Initial Review

My foray with the Saucony brand of running shoes started with the Saucony Kinvara 6 (K6), slightly a little less than a year ago. The moment I put on the shoe, I was immediately impressed with it. I ran a marathon in it, albeit with a stress fracture and it has been my go to shoe on more days than I can remember. 

So when I got the chance to try on a pair of Saucony Kinvara 7 (K7), I was squealing (as Jamie would put it) like a child with a new toy in his hands. I simply couldn't wait to take it for a spin. Now, the K7 might look very similar to the K6 visually but don't let that fool you into thinking it's basically the same shoe. It's really not. There has been some very positive tweaks to the K7 that makes an already great shoe even better, in my humble opinion.

The biggest and prominent update to the Kinvara 7 is the EVERUN heel insert. The science behind this over at Saucony is that your typical EVA foam tends to heat up and gets softer as you run longer. The legs tend to fatigue more during this time and need the impact protection the most during this phase. The EVERUN apparently addresses this breakdown of cushioning and offer the protection your legs require during this phase of your run. The second tweak you'd notice is targeted on the outsole.

Let's get to how these updates work in tandem to make the K7 my current favourite. We'll start with the upper. The upper of the Kinvara 7 carries over two features from its older sibling, the K6, which is the FlexFilm, and Pro-Lock lacing system. I like the FlexFilm in the K6 and I like the FlexFilm in the K7 just as well. The FlexFlim are overlays that are melded to the upper to eliminate seams and stitches that stiffens the upper a little but retains just enough flexibility to be comfortable.

The upper mesh also has a nice upgrade to it. The front half of the mesh remains very open and breathable and is supported by a finer mesh that effectively keeps out debris yet still maintaining breathability at the forefront. In fact the fine mesh did a great job of keeping water out, at least for a decent amount of time as I found out during a run when it poured halfway. 

The midfoot section retains its Pro-Lock lacing system found in the K6. While it didn't really bother on the K6, nevertheless, I clearly felt it when I had the shoe on. The Pro-Lock in the K7 has been tweaked and disappears into the rest of the upper more than the one found on the K6. This translates to much less annoyance with the wrap around the midfoot area. A nice change if you ask me.

The Kinvara 7 has a semi-rigid heel counter that goes about halfway up the heel of the shoe and feels flexible, soft and forgiving against the Achilles. The collar is slightly padded and is lined with the RunDry fabric that soaks up moisture and wicks away sweat.

The outsole has seen a considerably visual change from its predecessor. The K6 (and K5 for that matter) sported ubiquitous triangles on its outsole. The Kinvara 7 now sports an outsole design called Tri-Flex reinforced with XT900 carbon rubber compound in high-abrasion areas to maintain the durability of the shoe. The XT900 in the K7 is located in the same locations as its predecessor, on the lateral heel and toe, but only the shape of the pods has changed. 

The outsole now sports arrow like flex grooves instead of the previous mushy square like pods. The flex grooves that adorn the K7 from toe to heel offer excellent flexibility. The iBR+ and XT900 carbon rubber compound placement works nicely for durability and traction which has really improved. No slipping on most surfaces that I ran, even in the rain. The shoe feel more responsive right out of the box.

The biggest update for the Kinvara 7 is basically something you can't outwardly see which is the midsole. The K7 has done away with the PowerGrid and introduced the EVERUN, a midsole compound that will replace the standard EVA technology in all its running shoes. The EVERUN tech is not only more durable but is touted as being more efficient in absorbing impact and delivers 83% more energy return with a noticeable resilient and responsive ride.

But unlike the Hurricane ISO 2, Guide 9 or the Triumph ISO 2 which sports a full length EVERUN midsole insert, the K7 only get it on the heel section which is to apparently give the K7 a speedier feel without being overly plush. The rest of the midsole is made out of the same material as the K6 which is SSL EVA rubber.

Fit wise, I found the Saucony Kinvara 7 to be consistent with the K6. The midfoot had a nice gentle but snug hold even with the Pro-Lock lacing system. The relatively low heel collar kept my heel in place nicely. The toebox though was a nicer improvement than the K6 and I loved the roomy feel I got from it. The mesh was breathable enough to keep my feet cool from the crazy heat conditions we run in over here. Overall I'd say my size US9's were a perfect fit weighing in at 7.7oz. with a stack height of 22mm (heel) and 18mm (forefoot), giving it a 4mm offset.

While I've done a few runs in the Kinvara 7 since I've got them, I haven't really taken them out for a long run. I planned to initially use them for the Kyoto Marathon but my torn meniscus put paid to that! But in all the shorter runs I've done to date, they gave a nice firm ride. I for one love the firmer spectrum of running shoes.  

But after more runs in them and once you go out a little longer in them, your feet begins to settle into them and this is when the cushioning of the K7 really comes into play. Though I cannot really attest to it yet until I've taken them for a really long run, I'm betting my bottom dollar that my feet wouldn't be as fatigued after a really long run in them. I'll test that theory once I'm back to full marathon training in a week or so.

So, is the Saucony Kinvara 7 worth spending money over? I'd say a definite yes! Saucony has done an excellent job with the K7. Whether you're Kinvara loyalist or even one just wanting to try the brand will come to like the lightweight, responsive and zippy feel the shoe exudes. With my meniscus tear already on the mend, I'm looking forward to putting a lot more miles into them. The Saucony Kinvara 7 is a shoe that you can easily use for a leisurely 5km run right up to a competitive marathon with ease.     

The Saucony Kinvara 7 will be available from today, 1st April 2016 (this is no April Fools' joke) at selected Royal Sporting House Outlets nationwide in 3 colorways for the men and 2 for the women. The K7 retails at RM429.00 but heck, it's worth every ringgit!

The pair of Saucony Kinvara 7 above was so kindly provided by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the authorised distributor for Saucony in Malaysia  for testing purposes and my review is based on my own personal take of the shoe and is in no way influenced by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in any way.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kyoto Marathon 2016: Days 4 & 5

Day 4 - Arashiyama

The fourth day of our stay in Kyoto saw Choon Yuen checking out and heading off on his own. That left me and my wife to explore the place alone. Initially I was a little worried about navigating cos Choon Yuen was my living GPS unit and now I had to do it all on my own.

The 'Shaggy Shrine' as my wife labeled it was just by the side lane of our apartment.

Nevertheless, my wife had done quite a bit of research on the place and I'd let her take over the navigation duties and I'll just keep on acting like the awe struck tourist. Our plans for the day was to visit Arashiyama. The day was still as cold as the previous day but with slightly less wind. This time I bundled up properly to ward off the cold and wasn't freezing my butt off.

Since Arashiyama was a ways off, we needed to get to Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama line. The trick was how to get there. We initially thought of taking subway to the station but decided to try taking a bus instead. We were totally lost about taking buses but decided that we need to learn how to take one anyway. So we made our way to the nearest bus stop and started looking at the details on the board, which were all in Japanese. The locals must have found us really amusing trying to decipher the boards!

The Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama tram

Damn, that was going to be a problem. Good thing, the names of the bus stops were in English and we managed to make some headway on which bus to take. What I like about the bus stops here was that they had this gadget that actually told you how far away the buses were from you. It showed an icon and some Japanese words when the buses were two stops away from you and told you when the bus was arriving. Nice. I wouldn't have to be guessing when they would arrive.

And these bus gadget thingy was spot on. When it turned to bus arriving status, the bus was actually arriving! I was totally impressed. Trust me, I don't even know how to take buses back home and I probably wouldn't even bother.
The bus approaching 'gadget' that had me mesmerized!

Anyways, we got on the correct bus and got to the Shijo-Omiya station heading to the Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama station. It was a one coach tram that was bound for Arashiyama every 10 minutes. The ride alone took about 20 minutes or so, I can't really recall and passed by some scenic neighbourhoods and temples along the way. We finally reached the Arashiyama train station and I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I knew we were going to Arashiyama but I had no idea what was in Arashiyama. I just followed my wife's lead. She did the research and knew where she was going.

The shops just outside the Arashiyama station

I was impressed with the station itself. This was beginning to look good. Lots of tourists were also visiting the place. We were both pretty hungry and walked the row of shops outside the train station looking for some warm food. We managed to get some stuff from the convenience store and also some of the delicacies at one of the food shops to fill our tummies for the moment. We took a walk along the road and came to the beautiful Togetsukyo bridge over a river (which I later learned was called the Katsura river) surrounded by a scenic mountain view. If only it was in Fall or Spring, I'm pretty sure the view would have been a million times more stunning.

Two cheery tourists being taken for a ride on these two wheelers.
The guy pulling them along look fit enough to run ultras!

This was when it hit me that I've seen this place before. This was exactly where I DNF'ed the Kyoto Marathon! I never realised the route would take us to Arashiyama. I was thrilled cos when I saw it during the marathon, I was so in awe of the mountains and the river. I thought I would never see it again. Now here I was again to take in its magnificent beauty.

We took a stroll across the bridge cos my wife said there was a story about the bridge she read somewhere. Apparently we're supposed to cross the bridge and not look behind but heck, I peeked behind anyway ... LOL! We stopped at the centre of the bridge to admire the mountains and the river for a bit, took some pictures and headed back towards the bamboo forest section.

The Togetsukyo bridge that I was not supposed to look back but did anyway 

We walked by the banks of the Katsura river and I was so taken in by the serenity of the place that I was so afraid to even raise my voice for fear of spoiling the moment. We passed by a park that had some cherry blossoms that were in early bloom stages. My wife was pretty excited to see them and we stopped for some pictures. The weather was turning out to be beautiful for a nice outdoorsy walk.

You can't expect me not to do something as silly as this, right?

I couldn't believe how lovely the place was and was running around here and there looking for opportunities to take pictures, meniscus pain be damned. I was going to enjoy myself. There wasn't many tourist here so it was nice and quiet, just the way I loved it. My wife's navigation was spot on cos we soon came to the bamboo forest area.

The bamboo forest, with its tall groves shooting up to the sky was absolutely amazing, the place was a little overly crowded with tourists for my liking. Too many people looking for the best spots for a picture that made me wanna quickly head out of there. A few quick pictures of the two of us, we made our way to the next destination on her list, Gio-ji Temple and Otagi Nenbutsu-ji.

This is my best memory of the bamboo forest cos the rest was so full of tourist, I didn't really enjoy it!

Again I was relying on her to get us there, I'm the awe struck tourist, remember? We passed a few more temples and took a quick look-see before continuing our walk. Once past the temples, we came to a beautiful small street that housed rows upon rows of cosy Machiya, traditional Japanese town houses with shingled/tiled roofs that were amazing. The name of the street, according to my wife was called the Saga-Toriimoto street. Some of these houses were converted into souvenir shops and the houses were so beautiful I truly wanted to stay here.

The beautiful dwelling along the Saga-Toriimoto street

We hardly saw many people along the street here, save for a few elderly couples and one or two tourists heading to see an attraction or two. We took our time through the streets as we made our way to Gio-Ji Temple. It was a nice 30 minutes leisurely walk before we finally found the temple on our first try.

The temple required ¥300 entrance fee per person. We didn't hesitate cos after all, we were here to see stuff and I wasn't about to skimp on spending. Now, I thought this would just be another temple but I was mistaken. This one was known for its maple trees and moss forest. Once I stepped in, I was spell bounded by moss forest in the temple! I never thought I could even be fascinated by moss! I've never seen such well maintained moss surrounding the grounds and I had to stop and just take everything in.

The Gio-Ji temple with its amazing moss and maple tree forest

We spent quite a while here being mesmerized by the moss forest. I was wondering just how in heavens name do they upkeep it to look so beautiful. There was even a small cemetery there and I took some picture of it cos it was so beautiful. Of course my wife warned me about disturbing the place but I was very respectful of things. I do know when to behave.

Finally, after nearly 45 minutes, we headed out to find those thousands of statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple. It was a another 30 minutes or so of walking past pretty and cosy Japanese dwellings that really, really made me wish I could just hideaway here and not go home. I had to stop and take as many photos as I could cos they would be my only memory of the place.

We finally reached Otagi Nenbutsu-ji and after paying another ¥300 per person entrance fee, I was finally in the realm of those 1,200 Rakan sculptures that until now, I only saw in pictures. I ran off ahead of my wife to find the statues. I was like a kid in a playground when I saw them. Here they were, right in front of my eyes and I just couldn't help posing with them. 

It's not always I get to be surrounded by people ... errr, I mean statues! The amazing Rakan sculptures!

Aside from another elderly gentleman, we were the only other people there and I was thrilled to have the place all to myself. My wife was already checking out each individual statue looking for those that she wanted to find and take some pictures with. Once again the place was so calm and serene that even though I was hopping here and there, I kept the noise to a respectful level.

The statues were all that I imagined them to be and lots more. There were clumps of them gathered together and I took my time checking out each and everyone of them. It was really worth the walk all the way up here. There were three levels that these statues were located along with a small dwelling and a temple of sorts. 

I took my time taking in the beauty of the place and after nearly an hour here, we finally exited the place albeit reluctantly cos we needed to catch the last tram out at 5.00pm. It was still a long walk back to the tram station and I didn't want to miss the last ride out. Still on high from what we experienced, we made our way slowly down the street.

Did I nail the pose?

Somewhere down the road, we took a wrong fork and ended up on the main road instead of the previous Saga-Toriimoto street that we came from. We just kept going cos we knew that we were still in the right direction and sure enough, we reached the tram station with about an hour to spare before the last tram left. Phew!

Hungry from the walk, we got ourselves some hot solid food and rested for a while before buying the return tickets back. This was where I took the opportunity to grab a nice yummy green tea ice cream and it was absolutely heavenly even in the biting cold weather. The train was right on time and the ride back was uneventful.

My yummy green tea ice-cream. Aren't you all green with envy!

I gathered we had walked close to 10km but somehow I wasn't that tired, probably cos we took our time exploring the place. Once we got back to the Gion area, my wife wanted to find Pontocho Alley. I had no idea where or what that was and even though the weather was freezing, I gamely went along. She had this uncanny sense of direction and found it on her first try. Damn, I was amazed!

The Kimono Forest motifs at the Arashiyama station that are only lighted in the evenings

The Pontocho Alley, which runs parallel along the west bank of the Kamo river between Sanjo and Shijo is deemed by many, residents and visitors alike to be the most beautiful street in the city. Lined on both sides with traditional shops and restaurants, no cars, modern buildings or gaudy signages are allowed. With the sun setting, the place was lighted up and was simply beautiful an experience. This was also where I saw my very first authentic Geisha speeding along. Too late to whip out my camera for a pic though.

Not the real deal but close enough!

Once we got through the alley, we decided to walk back along the banks of the Kamo river. A nice place for a romantic walk under the stars. The river bank was teeming with life, runners out for their evening or recovery run, couples walking together, street performers strutting their talents and as a bonus, my wife and me managed to catch a glimpse of a real Geisha dancing through one of the restaurant windows. We could see the entire performance and were awe struck watching her perform. We stood there for close to 5 minutes watching the show but felt like trespassers spying on something illegal and decided to move on from there.  

Walking along the banks of the Kamo river

The entire day was replaying in my mind over and over again and I don't think the memory would wear off anytime soon. After a packed dinner from Lawson, we were both out the moment our heads hit the pillows.

The beautiful Kamo river against the lighted backdrop of the city

Day 5 - The Long Trek

On Our last day in Kyoto, we planned to take in as many attractions as we could. After a full day yesterday, we were surprisingly not as tired as we thought we'd be. My wife had three to four places planned on the menu for the day and we decided to do it all by walking to all the locations which in hindsight may have been a little short sighted on our part.

We walked from the apartment to our first location on the list, which was the Keage Incline. Along the way, we met a nice elderly Japanese lady on a bicycle who asked us if we both were a couple and also where we were from. She had some grasp of English and we chatted away for quite a while. She was living just nearby and was on her way out doing her regular daily stuff. When I asked for a photo with her, she shied away saying she didn't have her make up on. She wished us luck and we were off on our way again.

The abandoned tracks of the Keage Incline

We stopped at Lawson (I just love the place) and grabbed a quick breakfast before moving on again. We walked past the gargantuan Torii gate near Heian shrine again, a place that brought bittersweet memories for me. We finally reached the Keage Incline, nearly 45 minutes later. The Keage Incline is situated on the Kyoto side of the Lake Biwako Canal and was once used as a rail line to connect the channels. Sadly, the cherry blossoms weren't in bloom yet cos it would have been a spectacular sight to behold.

With no cherry blossoms in sight, I might as well just let a train run over me!

Nevertheless, it was still an amazing sight to behold. The abandoned track provided me loads of opportunities for pictures and I didn't shy away. Met another elderly gentleman here and even though neither could speak the language, both my wife and me somehow still managed a decent 'conversation' with him. At least he obliged when I asked for a picture with him.

Another 'friend' I made in Kyoto

The 'coach' used to transport the boats across the canal

Our next stop for the day was finding the Nanzenji Temple and the Aqueduct. Even though we knew the way to the Aqueduct, we spotted a nice scenic uphill path and decided to divert from our original route and explore the path and see if it'll lead us to Nanzenji. The route took us through a mountainous path that Yan Leng and Piew would revel upon. Again it was just the two of us and there were times when we wondered if the path would lead us anywhere.

The scenic but steep route up to the Himukai Daijingu Shrine

We finally came upon a shrine at the top of the hill called the Himukai Daijingu Shrine. Tradition has it that the shrine was founded during the era of the 23rd emperor Kenzou, who was said to have been on throne a few years during the latter half of the 5th century. During the Onin civil war (1467-1477), all of its historical records as well as building were burned down. The shrine lays on a beaten path which sees not many visitors these days.

We looked around the empty shrine and found a sign that indicated we could reach the aqueduct through a trail path. We were a little apprehensive but decided to keep going. Who knows what we might find and worse comes to worse, we could just double back. We were happy that we pushed on cos we came up a beautiful trail path that housed the Ama No Iwato shrine in a cave along the path.

Making an offering for a speedy recovery in the Ama No Iwato cavern shrine

We explored the cavern shrine and I said a small prayer to help with my injury recovery and we continued along. The trail path was magnificent and I was regretting not having on a pair of trail shoes but instead had on my Kinvara 7. I was slipping and sliding every which way down the path. We made our way slowly down and bumped into three young Japanese guys who wanted to know what was up ahead. I told them there was a shrine and they happily thanked us and went ahead. Next we met a couple looking for a waterfall and I remember the map said there was one up ahead so I told him so but cautioned that I wasn't 100% sure but he gamely went on while his other half said she'll meet him later and went the opposite way.

The lovely trail path that we stumbled upon

The trail was longer than we anticipated but eventually we arrived at the aqueduct from behind. I was awe stricken once again (the millionth time I've been in such a state) at the sight of the aqueduct. It was breathtaking to see something like this close up in modern times. The aqueduct still had water flowing through it. Surprisingly the place was pretty deserted with only  a handful of tourists. Not that I was complaining. Now I could get some magnificent shots of the entire aqueduct with no one else in the pictures.

Admiring the still flowing water in the aqueduct
I can't help gawking at the beauty of the aqueduct

Once we were done with the aqueduct, we headed to the jaw dropping shrines a few steps away from the aqueduct. Truly magnificent works of architecture. The gardens were so well tended that I was afraid of even looking at them for fear that I might jinx it. I'm glad we made the trek here cos I would have been thoroughly disappointed if we didn't.

Truly magnificent architecture

Next on our agenda was the Philosopher's Path. Based on the map, it wasn't too far away. So we started off again towards it, stopping only at vending machines to grab some hot coffee cos the weather was getting a lot colder now. What impressed me again was how clean the streets were and how friendly the residents were.

I'm pretty sure we're on the right path!

We reached the start of Philosopher's Path about 15 minutes later. I had heard so much about it but unfortunately we were there during winter and the trees were barren. Nevertheless it still was beautiful and I could imagine how much more beautiful it would be with the trees in full bloom. I will definitely come back again one day to see this.

I'm sure this would have looked even more awesome with the trees in full bloom!

As we walked along the path, we came across this elderly lady and her bunch of cats. The cats were lounging around the place, not at all scared of the visitors. It was like they were putting on a show. If you sat by the bench on your own, one or two cats would come over and sit next to you for some pampering. My wife was totally delighted to be surrounded by fluffy fat Japanese cats!

The fluffy fat cats!

Trying to be as still as possible to entice the fat fellow next to me

The path was long and housed some beautiful Japanese dwellings along the way. Loads of souvenir and food shops also lined the path. Halfway through we begin to see more people along the path, Somewhere towards the end, I was beginning to start feeling under the weather. My joints were starting to ache and a cough was brewing. The cold was getting to me. I was starting to shiver at certain points. This didn't look good.

Couldn't find a Geisha to accompany me, this teddy bear will just have to do!

We finally came to the end of Philosopher's Path (or the beginning, depends on where you started). There were a lot more tourists here simply because the Ginkaku-Ji Temple attraction was just around the corner. This was also on my wife's list so we made a beeline for the place but not before grabbing some hot food along the way. We were famished!

We paid the entrance fee (I forgot how much) and toured the place. The place had a well maintained garden with ponds and trees all around. The main attraction was the Silver Pavilion that was anything but silver. The place was packed making the experience a little unnerving especially with me feeling worse by the minute.

The beautiful sculptured sand gardens

The Silver Pavilion, nothing really silver about it though!

We made a quick tour of the place stopping only to throw some coins into one of the ponds and wishing for a speedy injury recovery. On the way out, we stopped at the souvenir shops cos my wife wanted to get some stuff back. By this time I really needed to get back to the apartment, I was really out of it and was shivering even more.

By my count we'd probably walked around 15km so far and I was totally out of it. After another round of a hot meal and drink, we walked to the bus stop just down the road. Didn't have to wait long for the bus. As much as I wanted to see more places, I just had no more energy to do it. Even my wife was feeling the fatigue by now.

The well maintained gardens and ponds in the Ginkaku-ji Temple grounds.

We reached our destination, got off, headed to Lawson (where else) and got some packed food for dinner. Even though I was almost ready to drop from tiredness, I was going to miss the place considerably. Once we reached the apartment, we couldn't rest just yet cos we had lots of stuff to pack since we had to leave really early the next morning. I was already fighting with fever and cough and knew it was going to be a rough trip home.

The view of the city from the top of the temple

The reality that my trip was coming to an end finally hit me. I'm not done yet. I don't want to go home just yet. I wanted to stay longer... heck, I wanted to stay in Japan! But I guess, I have to get back to reality. I need to work to earn more money to afford more trips like this. Sigh!

The Return

We woke up round 4am cos we had an 11.00am flight to catch and needed to be at the Kansai airport early, just to be sure since it was our first experience. Initially we wanted to take the subway to Kyoto station but that would have been a long walk, nearly 20 plus minutes but maybe even longer in my sickly condition. We decided then that we'd just take a taxi to the Kyoto station and thankfully there was one just outside the apartment at 5.00am in the morning. I thanked whatever gods that was looking out for me.

Got to the station early, had a 30 minute wait for the first Haruka Limited express train out of Kyoto to Kansai. The train was on time and I spent the 75 minutes journey to catch some shut-eye before we reached Kansai Airport. It was an uneventful trip and we had no issues checking in and getting through customs. The flight was also uneventful though it was delayed for close to an hour as there were so many planes queuing for take off.

I wish I could just stay here!

Practically slept on the trip back and whatever time I was awake I spent thinking of how much I loved the place and made a vow that I would come back to Japan again next year and not just to race. I'm captivated by the beauty of the place and the culture that it exudes. How could I not have gone to Japan sooner??!

Recaps of Days 1 can be found here and Days 2 & 3 here.