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  • Akiko MeraPHOTOGRAPHY: SOPHIE KNIGHT
  • Akiko MeraPHOTOGRAPHY: SOPHIE KNIGHT
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: SOPHIE KNIGHT
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: SOPHIE KNIGHT

Akiko Mera: Oxfam Trailwalker

, 2010/04/22

What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked? To the bus stop? To work maybe? Imagine you begin walking at 9:00 AM one morning. Noon passes, dusk falls, and you’re still walking. Midnight approaches, you’re still walking. Fast forward to a freezing dawn, a weary noon, and an exhausted evening. Your inexorable trudge has carried you a distance of 100km, with over 4000m of climbing in total, without a wink of sleep.

Unimaginable? Not so for the 720 people who will be competing in the Oxfam Trailwalker 2010 on April 23rd-25th. Now in its fourth year, the grueling hiking course begins in Odawara, snakes through the rugged foothills of Mt Fuji around Hakone, and then ends near the shores of Lake Yamanako in Yamanashi prefecture.

“It has to be tough; it attracts people who like challenges,” says Akiko Mera, Oxfam Japan‘s Executive Director. She isn’t too shy of them herself; she hiked hundreds of kilometers around the area before deciding on the current course. When asked why the last twenty kilometers include the most punishing and relentless ascent of the whole course, she laughs; “Well, if you’ve made it that far, you may as well carry on… and there’s the views of Mount Fuji as a treat right at the end!”

Mera sees Trailwalker as a combination of two challenges; the physical and the fundraising. Many participants apparently find the toughness of the hike, not to mention the required training, make them more appreciative of what they took for granted before. “After walking that far and going home to your hot shower or your home, you do think about how lucky you are.” Furthermore, it encourages them to think about those who will benefit from the fundraising, who are not so fortunate. “We want people to get into the spirit of the event,” Mera explains. “You have to come up with creative solutions- we’ve had participants organize concerts or flea markets to raise the money.” To date, ¥33,210,164 has been raised, but as fundraising will be continued until July, that could rise considerably.

Oxfam is a British charity that has hundreds of projects worldwide, many involved in water, sanitation, and health. The money raised through the Japanese Trailwalker will mostly go towards projects in the DRC (Domestic Republic of Congo) and India. However, with the characteristic respect for local communities that runs throughout their projects, Oxfam will also be using some of the proceeds for awareness building exercises in Japanese schools, as well as maintaining good relations with the local communities that live around the course. The participants are invited to visit local festivals in Hakone and Odawara later in the year, in order to see the areas when when they aren’t so concerned about getting to the finishing line.

Incredibly, the majority of participants- 80%- do actually complete the whole 100km. The record time is just 15 hours, completed by fell runners who felt that merely walking 100km was not challenging enough. Some of them have never even seen the course, having come from abroad for a hardcore “holiday.” While others have done the Trailwalker elsewhere, such as Hong Kong, which draws an incredible 1000 teams, or 4000 people, every year.

Mera, however, is quietly proud of the route she helped to devise, pointing out that Hong Kong’s is nearly all paved, and not as varied. It is true that the Hakone area boasts some stunning scenery, that can almost melt the pain of cramps, blisters and fatigue- but I’m sure the walkers will never be so glad to see the majestic crest of Fuji through the mist as they will be at the end.

For more infomation on how to suport the Oxfam Trailwalker please click here.

The following map is a survey of points along the Trailwalker course near Mount Fuji.

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