Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Great Tohoku Cycling Adventure: Conclusion

After rolling out of this beautiful hotel to the running narration of a gaggle of Japanese seniors oggling my bike set up. or perhaps they were oggling my ass in biking shorts. or both.

naka naka umai ne. They'd say over and over as I pumped up the tires, put the bags on, etc.
translation: just keeps getting better and better.

I love old Japanese men. They crack me up.

And so began day 6, but to tell the truth, the next 5 days are pretty blurred together. I had my groove. I'd hit a hill and say to myself outloud, "hai!"
or as was often the case, I'd just chant to myself, "climb fucker climb!!" in creepy Micheal Jackson voice.

Perhaps needless to say, my own company and only my bike to talk to for 10 days made me a little loopy.

LESSON LEARNED: Though I was glad to have done the difficult finding my groove stuff by myself, some company might have been nice too.

That said, most days I got amazing streaks of clarity about myself and my life and WHAT IT ALL MEANS. A month later I'm still panning through it all.

I love graffiti.

This a famous place in Iwate prefecture called Kita Yamazaki. It is as beautiful as the posters but really, the trip as a whole can't compare to anything I was able to catch on film.

Highlights of the last half of the trip included staying with a cool couchsurfer. I would have loved to stay with more couchsurfers but not having a schedule was a very good thing too.

Aomori prefecture in the north was beautiful too. I spend all my time on the ShimoKita Peninsula. ShimoKita translates to something like "Below North" To futher clarify, it's advertised like this
I took this picture without getting off my bike. I totally felt hard core.

Something in me loves faded wind swept coast towns.

The wind was tough and blowing southward--i.e. a headwind. Though I had originally changed the direction of my tour hoping for strong coastal tailwind, it never happened. But that's ok. At this point, despite being sore and tired, everything was totally ok.
This says, "The road north" or "The north road" and made me happy. Stupidly happy, really.

The sign, from top to bottom indicates how many kilometers I am from
New York

I felt kind of near the edge of the world.
The wind kicked my ass.

Day 8 was spend circling the peninsula and was my longest day, clocking out with over 7 hours of "in the saddle" time and 135 km.

Now, Aomori Prefecture is known for many things: great seafood, apples, big flashy August festivals... but for me I will most remember THE FLIES. The swarms and swarms of BITING FLIES. Circling the peninsula required a good amount of climbing at a decent grade. And by day 8, my body was starting to get tired... ok, more than just starting. None-the-less, I hit the hills with a good attitude, my groove was on. And then the flies came. I think I smelled well well dead. Or rotting or something. Perhaps it was better I was cycling alone. Anyway you cut it, to those M*&%$*F$#*#$ers I smelled delicious.

Now, I'm not an especially fast climber. I think I'm a strong climber but I'm not fast. So with my bags and everything, I'd hit the 10% climbs in my slowest easiest granny gear and "spin" up the mountain. At a blistering 6 km/hr. Now, I didn't really care. I was happy just to be doing it for hours a day. But the flies are faster than 6 km/hr so suddenly, I had to push it. Ever time I dropped below 12 km/hr, they'd attack. And no talk of stopping to catch my breath! Only on very wind exposed corners could I stop to get a drink or rest for a minute before they found me.

It was a day of much cussing.

A local later told me that it was because my bike shorts are black that they attack me and sure enough, they were going for the thighs more than the exposed calves. What this meant is that in addition to huffing and puffing my way up the hills, cursing all the while, I was also reaching down to swat the buggers off the bottom of my thighs, causing me to swerve like a mad woman.

I was lucky. I ended up with less than half a dozen serious bites and didn't fall of a cliff. It was a good day. And the scenery.....
and the cows!

Um, back where I'm from we wouldn't use anything so fandangled to keep cows locked up. Why on earth are they tethered like that?

oh, life giving food. how I love thee. somehow, I'm always still hungry.
and what an end to a fabulous day. the tourists in tourist buses go to the top of that mountain. That's where one of the gods comes from, they say. It also smells so strongly of sulfer that it's hard to breath, they say. I left the peak for the tour buses...
Day 8 finished clocking out at 135km and over 7 hours in the saddle, I was very sore. I was so sore, and not just the muscles, that I wasn't sure if I could ride the next day.

but I did. I couldn't really stop myself. I was very lazy though and wanted to stop and take pictures every 5 minutes. It was so beautiful and my body was so tired, it was hard to resist.
I love maps and road signs. I saved a bunch of road signs for their own post but I'm such a bad blogger I don't know if they will ever make it up.

That's right there were free roaming horses and lighthouses. It was so awesome I almost didn't feel sore.
I feel so cool.
Boy1: is that your bike?
me: yeah.
Boy2: whoa, those are weird tires.
Boy1: Where are you from?
me: America, but I live in Tokyo.
Boy3: You rode from Tokyo?
me: no, from Sendai.
Boy4: Are you tired?
Boy2: Wow, that's far.
Boy3: Fight-o! Fight-o! (yelled for encouragement)
Boy4: Aren't you tired?
me: I'm ok, it's fun.
Boy1: Where do you sleep?
Boy2: Where'd you come from today?
me: at hotels, from Mutsu around the peninsula
Boy4:Aren't you tired?

etc. I love kids. I could have been from the moon and gotten the same reaction to them.
Boy3: Fight-o!!
What a fantastic decent (after the %^#$%@^$#@^% flies chased me up again) seeing Aomori bay.

I stopped for, arguably, way too many pictures.
It was a stunning stunning sunset. Everything was so beautiful in the world that day. ...except perhaps the insides of my thighs which were very saddle sore. sorry, you didn't want to know that did you?
my bike tries to fit in with local wildlife. can you spot her?
and finally, on day 10, I hit 1000km. omg does my body hurt. my bike's feeling like it needs some TLC too. I think about nothing other than how much I want a hamburger.

Local graffiti.

And finally, clocking out at more than 1040km, I arrived back at Hachinohe station and put my bike on the train. Perhaps the next bike journey will start here again but will go west, across the mountains. In many ways, I feel I can do anything now and I miss being on the road. I don't know when I'll be on the road next but I look forward to it. What and incredibly beautiful world...

the adventures continue.

I arrived home, tried to arrange to meet a few friends for drinks and food only to find that I was locked out of my apartment. When I had mailed my wallet back on day 4? I had left my keys in it. They'd been mailed to my school, which is not near where I live. Joe was out of town for the weekend and the key to his place was with the key to mine. My triumphant return was not so triumphant, tired and hungry and very smelly, I emailed a friend and asked if I could crash at her place No tears were shed. And in the end all was well.

the adventures do indeed continue.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Great Tohoku Cycling Adventure: Day 5. the mindset

I wake up bright and early in Miyako and feel a bit like death. But I get ready and am ready to roll 7am.... only to find I have 2 broken spokes from riding on the sidewalks the night before.

LESSON LEARNED: Seriously. Don't ride on the sidewalk. Broken spokes are a pain and if you don't know how to change them (like me) require finding a mechanic.
LESSON LEARNED 2: Bike mechanics don't open till 10am or so.

With less disappointment than I might have expected, I go back to sleep for 2 and a half hours.

The local police are very kind in helping me find a bike shop in the phone book and giving me extensive directions. The shop isn't technically open till 1pm but after giving the mechanic my truly disappointed face, he helps me out early. Also I buy gloves. Finally.

LESSON LEARNED: I never understood why cyclists wore gloves until I got blisters on my hands. Gloves are a good thing.
I'm a bit unhappy that I'm not rolling till after 1pm and feel "behind schedule." The coast is beautiful. I start to both come to terms with and then (finally!) discard the feeling of "behind schedule" that has followed me the whole trip so far. My body is SOOOOOOO tired and the road seems to be just one climb after the next. But after 40km, I start to hit a good groove. I make a well worth it detour to the Unosu cliff lookout.

So, on the couchsurfing boards there was a thread about called "songs for cycling" and one song that often goes through my head when my body is feeling crappy but I look up and see how fantastically beautiful the world is an Ani Difraco song called "Come Away From It." The connection probably doesn't probably make sense to anyone not living in my head but you can see the lyrics and find a mediocre cover here. The world is certainly beautiful enough...

This patch of flat road made me so happy I nearly cried. But once again, I will say I'm proud that no tears were shed the entire trip.

Rt 44, which was highly recommended by Sato-san the fantastic bike mechanic, was unfortunately closed because of a recent major earthquake. But friendly mostly toothless locals directed pointed me toward a smaller road that got me back down to sea level.

LESSON LEARNED: Locals don't necessarily know how far 10km actually is. It probably means some distance between 3 and 22km. Understanding when a local actually knows what they are talking about or are just trying to get you to leave is an important survival skill.

Though I'd only done 75km, my shortest full day of the trip (though not really a full day considering the spoke...), I was running out of daylight and mental fortitude so I decided to call it a day and save the legendary climbs and scenery for Day 6.

Seemingly unfortunately, all the minshuku were closed. The only place open was a posh hotel.

But at $80/night including breakfast and dinner... that's still way better than Tokyo prices.

The view from my window.
My room:

The dinner:

Man, was that beer well deserved.

Breakfast, they said, was served at 7am. Just like everywhere. And for the first time, I did not despair and think that I would have to miss breakfast and get on the road early. Instead, I FINALLY started to relax. Breakfast is at 7. Breakfast is at 7 just about everywhere. That means I can sleep in till 6:30. Score. Hell, this means I'll be getting 10 hours of sleep. Score.

After a shower and fantastic food, after 5 days and 460km, I finally started to relax. It had been months and months since I had properly relaxed. Who knew it would take 5 days of the hardest physical exertion and therefore equal (though not hardest) mental/emotional exertion to wear myself out so much that I could finally chill out.

Man, I'm stupid sometimes. But at least I finally realized it and it felt good to go to bed knowing that tomorrow would be a totally different sort of day.

And what a sunrise it was.

(and then I happily slept for two more hours before breakfast)