I went over the river and into the woods. Where did I go?
Somewhere around the Japanese portal to Hell So what’s this I’m hearing about a certain Paul Kariya coming out of retirement to play in the Asia League? Mama like this idea! But I will say right now, Mr. Kariya sir, if this is true, you better be playing for Nikko or I will be riiiiiiiiiight pissed. They get too much snow up in the North anyway!
Now for those of you who have been following Psycho Lady Hockey since it has once again resumed its overseas life-support status, you’d know that there already is a Paul Kariya roaming Japan. I’m talking, of course, about my 3-cylinder “beast” of a Japanese car, which was respectfully named after the man himself a day before he announced his retirement from the NHL.
Paul and I have been on some excellent adventures in the two months since I moved to this damn rock. We’ve been to see the magic of Tokyo Disneyland, and to see spider monkeys fellating each other at the zoo in Hitachi. We’ve been to the beach to watch tsunami-like waves form while a tropical cyclone blasted through the Ibaraki Prefecture, and taken pretty much all of the roads less traveled between Tokyo and Fukushima. However, perhaps today, Paul and I should have stayed home and watched The Sopranos all day like common people do.
Today was the day I was finally going to see the epicenter. Sendai. Where it all went down last March. Where thousands of people where swept away to a watery death. I was finally going to see what remained of the devastation, and head to the volunteer centre so I could figure out how I could donate some of my vacation time to the relief efforts up there. It was a trip I have wanted to make since before I got here, but I haven’t had the time to make the five hour trek (each way) until now.
I wasn’t alone either. Passenger X was in the car with me. We had set out early in the day armed with not much more than a few pieces of inarizushi, a couple bottles of water, a Pepsi energy drink (I’m not sure how I feel about that, by the way), and, for some reason, a book on Japan. We had been driving along the mysterious Route 6, as I’ve come to refer to it, for about three hours when we encountered a police road block, and had to turn around when one of the officers said, “No straight” to me.
I was determined to find another way to Sendai. I was going to get onto any major North bound route until I got to my destination. The problem was I was met with road blocks at every attempt. What was going on? Was the damage so bad that NONE of the non-ETC highways could get me there. My only hope was to drive Paul Kariya as inland from the sea as possible (within reason), head North, then come at Sendai like a spider monkey from the West.
After a few routes ended in barricade, we found ourselves on a beautiful, picturesque road that was leading up through the mountains. Passenger X had taken out the camera and was trying to capture the magnificence, as I sped along the road not knowing exactly where we were headed. It’s always been my motto that you can’t get lost if you don’t really care where you’re going. Sure, I wanted to get to Sendai, but there was no harm in having to try again another day if today’s obstacles couldn’t be conquered.
We were driving up and down mountains for what seemed like forever, when the early Japanese sunset began to darken the sky. Eventually we were so deep into the woods that I had to turn on the high beams, even though, through the odd tree you could see that there was still some light in the sky. I was starting to get a little concerned. I didn’t exactly want to be stuck on a mountain after dark. If the Japanese version of Deliverance existed, I really didn’t want to find out the hard way.
We were following road signs and area maps with little cartoon drawings of people having the, honest to God, best time of their lives. Who these people were supposed to be, I had absolutely no idea. I hadn’t seen another living soul since the police barricade back on Route 6.
The roads began to get sketchy. The pavement would be interrupted by long stretches of overgrown dirt roads that were inhabited by all kinds of wildlife like gigantic birds of prey, and mammoth insects. Every time we stopped for even a second, Paul would be swarmed by huge bees, mosquitos, and God knows what else.
Finally we came to another paved area with a map that indicated that the road we were on was the way out of what was becoming an increasingly alarming situation. However, the roads kept getting worse and worse, and I just kept praying that this road wouldn’t lead us astray because the last thing I wanted to do was drive back through the jagged rocks and debris that I had already managed to survive. Something told me I shouldn’t press my luck to try and beat them a second time. The last thing I needed was for one of the tires to blow out at dusk in the middle of fucking nowhere. Besides the roads were so tight there wasn’t exactly a good spot to turn around.
Passenger X found this whole thing amusing at first, and was even filming it. I tried not to raise any concerns that we were headed into a highly dangerous situation, so I played along with the “hilariousness” of our current circumstances. However, as the sky darkened, and the water trickling down the rocks began to take on a blood red hue in the moonlight, PX started to get hysterically worried, and Paul Kariya’s cabin filled with the vile stench of fear. I’m like a wild animal in some ways. I can’t stand when people around me are scared or nervous. It really sets me off.
The roads began to get unbearable. The path was narrow between the mountain and the cliff, and for some reason the barriers had vanished quite a ways back. The music from my iPod was still playing at the same decibel, but I could no longer hear it, although the video footage indicates that a Jay-Z song was playing at the time. Finally, we hit something that was impossible to see since everything was so overgrown, and we nearly went over the cliff. Paul’s front left tire had began to slip, and I did everything in my power to keep us alive. I was, obviously, successful, but we had very little to celebrate when a few moments later we had come to the end of the line.
The road continued on, but, as it would turn out, all the falling rock warning signs had been put up for a reason. Four massive boulders stood between us and the salvation we were led to believe was down this rabbit hole. There was no way to maneuver around them because the width between the mountain and the cliff couldn’t have been more than eight feet, and one of the boulders was almost smack dab in the middle. It was far too heavy to move, and so now I was faced with the difficult task of getting us the fuck out of there.
Backing out was the last thing I wanted to do. The roads were narrow, visibility was shit, and if one of the back wheels was to go over the edge, we’d pretty much be fucked. I still, however, made an attempt to back up a little in hopes of reaching a slightly wider patch of road. I managed to get a few feet before spinning out. We were stuck. Fuck. Back to boulders and square one.
I got out and properly inspected the situation. It would be really, really, really tight, and probably really, really, really stupid, but a 500-million point turn looked potentially doable if executed properly. I went for it. Paul’s back end was pressed up against the mountain, and there was literally two inches between his front tires, and the edge of madness. As I attempted to make the next move, I was accosted by the screech of useless tires, and the smell of burning rubber. This time we were really, really, really stuck.
I couldn’t get us out of there going in either direction. PX was shaking and in tears, and apparently peed a little. The fear factor was off the charts and I was growing increasingly agitated.
Passenger X: I’m really panicking now. I’m serious.
Passenger X: I’ve never been so scared in my whole life *cries.*
Psycho: OK you need to shut up right now.
Passenger X: OMG. OMG. OMG. We’re going to die.
Psycho: Seriously. Can you shut the fuck up?
Passenger X: I d-d-don’t feel s-s-safe being in this c-car.
Psycho: Well fuck. Get out and stand the fuck over there! Geezus fuck.
Yes, I’m insensitive and I swear a lot, but I was the one who can actually operate a motor vehicle, and the last thing I needed was to be influenced by the laws of group hysteria. You can’t afford to panic in these situations. You need every thought and emotion focused on the task at hand. Everything else is a lethal distraction.
This, of course, was not my first rodeo, though I will admit it was probably the worst. I started to think about that night I was coming home from a Milwaukee Admirals game in Grand Rapids. It was somewhere around 2AM, and I was driving along the I-69 (that’s what she said). It wasn’t snowing, and the weather wasn’t bad, but suddenly I saw car after car stranded in the ditch. Out of nowhere, Boysie and I had hit black ice. I struggled to keep him on the road. It felt like I was arm wrestling with some invisible force that was just too much for me. I lost control and we went ass first into the ditch, and were immediately incased in snow. I had been lucky that we didn’t hit any road signs on the way down, but now I had to find a way out because, like the other cars I had seen along the way, we were totally stuck. Calling a tow truck was not an option. I was 19 years old and hated that I was considered a bad driver just because of that fact. I was getting my baby out of there no matter what because I didn’t want any authoritative figures to know what I had allowed to happen that night. I threw him into the lowest gear and wailed on the accelerator. Boysie charged his way up the hill in triumph as the other abandoned cars looked both cold and shamed in the snowy ditch below.
I kept thinking of this story and telling myself over and over that I’ve managed to get stuck cars unstuck many times, and that there was a chance that we would make it out of there by our own efforts. Part of me knew that I’m just a stubborn idiot. The safe thing (smart thing) to do would have probably been to try to find help. It’s not like this was the ditch on a major US Interstate. I was a mere two inches from driving off of a freakin’ mountain in Fukushima.
I tried everything I could think of from inside the car, but kept coming up short. We just weren’t moving. I grabbed my hot pink cellphone to use as a light so I could try to figure out what was obstructing the tires. The service was out, which meant that one of my escape plans was definitely not an option. We wouldn’t be calling anyone for help. Not that it really mattered. We were in the middle of fucking nowhere, and I didn’t know how I’d communicate my whereabouts to an English speaker let alone a non-English speaker. The only good thing about this was that Passenger X finally stopped crying, “Call the police” from twenty feet down the road.
I was down on all fours in the wet dirt trying to remove rocks and other debris from the areas around Paul’s shoes. Luckily, I was dressed for the occasion. I wear wearing an old-ish pair of black yoga pants, a pair of, formerly, white flip flops that I bought at a Hollister on the fly a few hours before my flight to Tampa during the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, a pink tank top, and my standard black Hockey Canada hat. It pays to have a bum’s sense of fashion in the event of a near death experience.
After all the rocks had been removed, I identified what appeared to be the major problem. Some small trees, no more than two or three feet high, had grown in a cluster at the edge of the cliff. Paul appeared to be stuck on at least one on the passenger side. I had to prop myself up with my left hand on one of the branches OVER the cliff while my right hand dislodged or snapped the offending branches. They were tough mother fuckers. Their roots must have grown deep down into the mountain wall. PX contributed with some inspiring coaching techniques by telling me not to fall over the cliff. Thanks for the input.
I got back into the car eager to see if my handiwork was going to yield some positive results. We managed to move a bit, but not much. We seemed to have a little more give than we did before so I had something to work with. I tried again and again, but the cluster of trees kept pushing me back. Even though they were the cause of our frustrating immobility, something told me they were the only things keeping us from flying over the edge, too.
I started to thank my lucky stars that I had the all-inclusive insurance on the car, and began to think of my rental car experience on my trip to Phoenix two years ago. I had been through the song and dance several times before, but I’ve never forgotten what the sales associate told me that day when I was picking up my white Solstice at Sky Harbour. “With the full coverage for only $6.99 a day, you can destroy the car, and just walk away. You could drive it over a cliff and you’d be fine.” I remembered thinking at the time that it was pretty unlikely that I would find a cliff near Jobing.com Arena to drive over, and I started to laugh, on the inside mostly, when I realized that 28 months later, I was about to do just that to my poor Paul Kariya all the way on the other side of the world.
Passenger X had walked back to about five feet from the car to observe the progress while pleading for me to reconsider the option of camping out in the car and dealing with the problem during daylight hours. Sure, I knew that was an option, but as far as I was concerned, that was Plan Z. I didn’t really consider a tiny car wedged between a slippery mountainside that was prone to falling boulders, and a cliff to be a safe spot to stay for any length of time. With just a two inch safety window, anything could have knocked us over the edge. If one of our daily earthquakes were to hit, or heavy rain (it’s the rainy season, you know) we’d be toast. And I’m sure it wouldn’t take more than thump from a large rock, Japanese black bear, or a couple of wild fellating snow monkeys to send us over the side either. I really didn’t want to be stuck there for a whole night unless I absolutely had to.
Illuminated by the light from the high beams, PX watched with hands clasped over mouth in terror, as I transported myself back to that historic night on the I-69. I summoned up everything I had in me to get all of us home safely just like I did that wintry night. If you had made a recording of the inside of the car during the ordeal, it probably would have sounded like I was getting it on with someone. I don’t know why, but I tend to coax my cars verbally in these situations. “Come on, baby. Come on, baby. Just a little more. Yes, right there, come on.” Plus, I was straining with every fibre in my being. All my upper body strength was warring with the force of the car as it was trying to push me back the opposite way. My right foot pressed down as hard as it could on the accelerator, and the rest of my leg was tensed and ready to respond with lightning fast reflexes on the brake the second the car became unstuck. Two inches wasn’t exactly a lot of wiggle room, and with the amount of force I was putting on the car, the second it became free, it was likely going to go full speed over the cliff. In the back of my mind I had prepared myself for the possibility that I may need to jump out of the car, and that I probably wouldn’t have much time to do it, if I’d have any time at all.
I battled for a good five minutes before Paul gave a mighty heave and lunged left onto the safety of the road. “Holy fuck,” I thought to myself as I made a few careful maneuvers to get us back on the right course. I blasted the A/C to cool down. Sweat had accumulated on my forehead during the ordeal. I sat there for a good thirty seconds and just exhaled as PX got back in the car. It felt like that was the first time I had allowed air to escape my body since we first found ourselves trapped down there. We didn’t say much to each other as we drove at a pace of no more than 15km/h back the way we came. We had seen some terrible things on our way there, and any type of friction from a stone, or the shock of seeing a wild animal or ghost (you know the wanderers that have probably died taking this path before) could put us into another dangerous, and likely fatal situation.
It took a long time until we were back on less hostile roads, and it wasn’t until then that I noticed that my hands and wrists were covered in blood and dirt. I looked at the crimson gashes on my hands and thought about the story my mother told me about my birthday. My mother, I suppose, had read up on palm reading at some point in her life, and the day I was born she opened my hand, studied it, and quickly shut it again. I know this because all through my life she would periodically check my palms to see what progress had been made, and often would recall the events of the day of my birth when she looked at my hand, and saw that my lifeline was alarmingly short. I don’t know how much stock she puts into the whole thing, but my lifeline later took on a more normal looking path. However, every time my mother takes another look, she always says the same thing to me, “Something must be watching over you because your hand is just covered with near death experiences.” If she only knew… Whoever was unlucky enough to land that job, they sure have their work cut out for them.
Top Photo: Taken before shit got real. It wouldn’t be a proper NHL offseason without at least one near death experience anyway.