Tuesday, September 13, 2011

3 Days to Go...

I wake up in Takikawa exponentially more excited than the day before, knowing that I am now just a mere 3 days away from completion. Unfortunately I am also starving, as I neglected to feed myself anything more than a bread bun filled with bean paste the night before (sounds gross, but darn those things grow on you!). I set out at 6 a.m. in search of a convenience store breakfast and an Italian with a questionable sense of his Japanese geography.

I have a Japanese cell phone, and he has an American one. Both of our phones are extremely powerful and effective in their own way...but neither of our plans allows for the phones to call one another. Relegated now to awkwardly browsing Facebook and sending messages back and forth I find a road that should be the only road on which Fabio could travel to continue on his journey. I hunker down with my egg and rice bowl and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. I am not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but even though I am 3 days from my goal, I have only 3 days to complete it. While assuming the ride will be flat and easy, where it lacks in hills it will make up in distance. I was hoping to cover 150 km (95 miles) today, but every minute I spend waiting for Fabio is a minute close I could be to completing my journey. With a heavy, frustrated heart, I decide to set off and try to make up for the hour lost waiting for the Italian Stallion (A good name for his bike, whether or not he named it), and set off for Rumoi and the western coast.

While riding today, I learned just how much the rarity of something can account for the awe it inspires in people. For example, we have dragonflies in Colorado, but seeing them is usually dependent on a certain season, and even then sightings are somewhat rare. Riding along today I had the inital pleasure of seeing small groups (flocks?) of dragonflies buzzing along next to me and I was momentarily struck by the beauty of nature around me. Immediately after I was struck in the face by another flock (pack?) of dragonflies heading the opposite direction. I looked up to see what amounted to a cloud of hundreds of dragonflies to my left and right all buzzing around in the pastures next to the road.

What I thought was a rare and cherished sight soon became a vicious game of dodge ball with a tactical squadron of insects. Down from the main formation they would swoop, heading at me with unmatched grace (or clumsiness). Bank left, bank right, up, down SWOOSH by my ear. Here comes the next one, flutter back, dive forward, barrel roll, SMACK in the chest. On and on for miles, the dragonflies and I play cat and mouse. All in all, it was a hilarious and unique way to spend an hour and a half of riding, but as I rode into the final set of hills the swarms petered out.

Finally, the roads were becoming less congested and the scenery becoming as beautiful as ever. In the midst of my appreciation of my surroundings I hear my phone ringing from my bag. I pickup and it is my ever watchful guardian, Kawasaki-san. He has called to give me an particularly amazing piece of news, that he has worked out transportation for me from Wakkanai (the northernmost city) to Fukuoka by plane. This is great news, because I hadn't actually planned out how I would be returning triumphantly to Fukuoka, though I knew a decent ferry system existed in Japan. Once I managed to pick my jaw up off of the asphalt and thank Kawasaki-san profusely I asked him how much I owed him for the ticket. In classic Japanese form, he told me not to worry about it. At that point I just didn't even know what to do in the face of such generosity. Here is a man to which I owe almost all of my life in Japan, yet he never ceases to amaze me with such heartrending kindness.

Kawasaki-san and I finish our conversation and I continue on my way, gliding as if on a cloud through the winding valleys of northern Japan. As soon as I reach Rumoi, I am initially buoyed by the excitement of reaching the previous days goal, I soon learn the true pain of a strong headwind. I would like everyone to take a moment and perform an experiment. You will only need 1 or 2 things, either a fan or 2 friends. If you are using a fan, put it directly in front of your face and turn the fan on full blast. With friends, have each one blow strongly into your ears. Now really take it all in, the incessant blowing. Cant hear anything else? Great. Annoying to feel it on your face constantly? Perfect. It is through this headwind that I now intimately understand how torture works. Pedaling for miles and miles with a constant wind blowing in your face is annoying by itself, but when it is also actively slowing you down, prolonging its contact with you, it is enough to drive you nearly insane.

I have chosen a town called Haboro as my resting spot. Mostly because it is just barely at my threshold for the maximum distance I wanted to travel tomorrow, and I am entirely exhausted from all this wind. For the first time on my ride, I decide to try a Japanese style Ryokan (mostly because every other place in town was full or wouldn't take me in for some strange reason). A Ryokan is like a hotel, but it is usually run out of someone's house, and is a much more intimate experience. Usually the hosts will make a bath for you and cook your meals, somewhat like a home-stay. It is much more expensive than I would like ($65 for the night, dinner and breakfast, still not too bad), but it is an experience that you can have only in Japan, so I will appreciate it.

There are only 2 other guests there that night, so I have a dormitory style room all to myself, which is a welcome comfort. At dinner we go through the usually rounds of small talk, talking shop about our rides and tips of the road. One of the cyclists gives me an alternate routing suggestion that sounds like it will really pay off.

I am very tired and worried about the long day I have ahead of me in the morning, so I am quick to say goodnight and head to my room. Tomorrow will be one of the longest rides of the trip and I sorely hope the wind is blowing in my favor!

Another quirky museum with cutting implements and stuffed bears

Authentic Japanese shack. The real way of life in Hokkaido hundreds of years ago

Snow Booties

Sea Arch

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