Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Great Tohoku Cycling Adventure: Day 3: trouble hits

An early 7am start

and a strong climb to start with led to the first patch of FLAT road I'd seen in 100km. I felt like crying for joy. Then I noticed my cycling computer was reading 0km/hr again. Then I started cursing. Eventually, I seemed to fix the problem but could never really tell why it wasn't working in the first place.

on an unrelated note...
LESSON LEARNED: from some reason I can't really understand, public restrooms often don't open till 9am.

LESSON LEARNED2: real convenience stores with ATMs are far and few between and post office ATMs are closed for most/all of the weekend.

But all other minor problems sorted out, it was a beautiful day along northern Japan's famously craggy coastline.

The hills began again, as the do. The front derailleur became a problem again and I resolved myself to stopping at every small town local mechanic until someone could sort it out properly. It's sampling local flavor, I tell myself. One small town mechanic proves to be more useless than the two the day before but finds a place in Kesennuma, 40 km up, that is both open and sounds like they know something about road bikes. OK, I can make it that far in this condition.
The mountains are indeed beautiful and also full of tunnels. This one was over 1km long and some were close to 3 km long.
There's a whole new power to the phrase "light at the end of a tunnel" when you are struggling up an incline in the dark with almost no shoulder and the surface of the road is slimy and cars re not so happy to be speeding by you and LOOK, the light!!! the end is near!!! I'm not going to die this time!!!

seriously.

LESSON LEARNED: For cycling almost anywhere in Japan, flashers are necessary day and night because of the tunnels. I left mine on almost all the time so good energy conservation is a good thing to look for.

Despite the beauty of it all, I start to think to myself that 1)my friends just buy cheap tickets to Guam or somewhere and sit on the beach for vacation... perhaps that wouldn't be so bad... 2) this is definitely the hardest physical thing I have ever done.

Rt 389 is generally really nice but because I am a slow climber, I usually chose to climb on the "sidewalk" farther out of the way of the cars. As the side walk was sometime on only one side of the road, it started to become a pain to cross traffic again. After one climb, and seeing that it was just going to go up again after I headed down, I decided to descend on the sidewalk.

Going well over 40km/hr I hit a very hard bump--one of those cracks in the side walk that has pushed up to form an inch or two narrow bump. I recover well and don't crash (thank my lucky stars!) but one of my bags has flown off and gotten a small tear. crap. It won't be a problem unless it rains. I check the bike and nothing seems to be hurt other than losing one of my smaller water bottles. It's a miracle.

About 10 km later, I have a flat and .... who can guess what's wrong in these pictures???



Need more of a hint??
A broken spoke. boo. much cursing.
A martini in Guam is sounding really good right now...

I would like to state for the record, though, that not today or any other day on the trip (including day 10 when I was indeed close) did I break down and cry. As someone who cries fairly easily, I'm pretty proud of myself.

LESSON LEARNED: the sidewalks are not for real cycling. they are most definitely not for cycling at fast speeds. Stay on the road.

LESSON LEARNED 2: I had debated whether or not to take my expensive nice camera on my trip. After deciding it would be too hot to where my camera bag on my back, I decided it was too dangerous to put my camera in one of my saddle bags. It was a good choice. Leave the fragile things at home.

Now, I have never actually, successfully changed a tire before, but I find a safe spot and get to work. Things are going smoothly. The puncture in the old tire looks like a pinch flat, indicating it was the bump after all. All goes well until the dreaded end part where I have never been able to get the &*$#&#*$&# tire back on the wheel. Initially, there are indeed problems but I think back to how I've seen other people successfully do it and then WHA-LA! Alleluia! I'm so happy. I'm a little worried about the spoke but it's only 20km more to Kesennuma and the proper bike mechanic.

I put everything back together and am now VERY sunburned. Things go back together well, but the wheel does not seem very true (straight) anymore. But there's nothing to do but push on.

After a few kilometers the wheel is rubbing on the breaks making it feel like I'm carrying 10 more pounds than I actually am. I reluctantly release the rear brakes so that the wheel can move freely. About 5 km more and the wheel is rubbing the released breaks again. It's definitely not holding up well. This is a clear sign that it's starting to "taco", I tell myself. I have horrible visions of the wheel buckling completely and throwing me into traffic.

Now, for the record, I'm not that much of a fat ass and me plus my bags couldn't have weighed more than 190 pounds, 200 pounds max. None-the-less, I take the 1L bottle of water out of the bags and put them in the water bottle cages on the frame. And I start walking my bike. I debate going to the next gas station and trying to hitchhike a ride to Kesennuma or wait an hour for the train.

I opt for the train. I also opt to not bother taking my bike apart and putting it in the bag like I'm supposed to. After all, this is just a tiny country train, no one will care...
but I get scolded by the conductor and properly yelled at by the station guy when I get off the train, but at this point, I don't care. All I can think about is my friends and their Guam/Hawaii/martini drinking vacations.

However, everything gets better when I find the mechanic. Sato-san has a tiny bike shop selling mostly mamachari but also proudly displaying his ancient Italian road bike, which according to him, he as ridden almost everywhere in Japan. He describes his shop as his "jobby." Since he used the word "jobby" in an otherwise Japanese sentence, I don't quite get it at first. Part job, part hobby, he explains. He is obviously happy to work on my bike.

He gives me soda and a banana and starts telling stories as he sifts through a huge box of unsorted spokes looking for the right one. His dream tour is when the Kuril Islands return to Japan, though they currently belong to Russia he sound ready to jump on a ferry or plane at a moment's notice if they suddenly become Japan again. It's all up and down he says smiling.

He spends nearly two and a half hours working on my bike, not only fixing the spoke and tuning the derailleurs but also figuring out how to connect the rack on the last, fourth, point. He tells me I must take rt 44 to see Kitayamazaki and the coast there. It's 10% climbs a lot of the time he warns me and 200m drops but the most beautiful place in Japan. OK, I say, but in that case can you double check my brakes too?

During this time his wife and in-laws also invite me into the kitchen, giving me tea and water and snacks and toast. The old granddad starts telling me stories about cycling in Shikoku 30 years ago.
"I must have done 100 up and downs during that trip." he raves in his slurred old man Japanese that I find hard to understand.

Finally the repairs are done. I decide to ditch my smaller water bottles and have only the 2 1L bottles on the frame. Tomorrow, I decide, I'm mailing a few things back to Tokyo.

Sato-san runs up stairs and changes into his cycling get up.
I would definitely recommend this guy. Find him at Kesennuma, ShinMachi 7-11 (気仙沼、新町7−11)local phone 23-1719. The next shop that knew anything about road bikes was in Miyako.

When it's all over and done with, I also buy and extra spoke and two more tubes and for everything he charges me 2000 yen, less than $20. Everything else is "service" he says, with a smile that means, because I like you. Finally my long legs and pigtails are good for something other than attracting stalkers!

He cycles out of town with me for the first 20km, a gesture I found incredibly kind.
The bike is finally behaving well. I am SO happy.

Our conversation, in between me panting my way up hills trying to be tough rather than slow goes something like this:
Sato: It's been 3 years since I cycled with a (word lost to wind and my poor Japanese) cyclist.
Me: pant pant, oh yeah?
Yeah, but (he/she??) wasn't as pretty as you.
Ah, thanks.
But don't tell anyone. It's a secret.
Ok, I won't. Hey, if you ever come to Tokyo you should look up the Tokyo Cycling Club online.
Hmmm, is it an internet cycling group?
Yeah, there are some really good riders.
Thanks, but I'm an analog cyclist and don't use the internet.
Well, ok.

Arg, what was the word I missed!?!?

Eventually, he waves good bye and tells me to take care and I'm off on the road solo again.

Ending strong and in a much better mindset than the rest of the day, I end up in a ryokan in Ofunato and get dinner/breakfast from a supermarket. Clocking out at 99km (plus 20km on the train) and ready to hit day 4 for all I'm worth.

the adventures continue...

3 comments:

Aly sun said...

I'll take a moment to validate your existence. I jumped onto your blog from PW. I enjoyed reading about your travels. What an amazing way to see the world.

Joseph said...

Dude. I was out of town for most of your trip/posting, so I'm only catching up now. Glad everything went well! And Ortlieb bags kick ass. I love 'em.

Anthony said...

why do the liquids in your water bottles look like super dehydrated pee?