Saturday, January 22, 2011
The bears are asleep. Day 1-Kii/Shikoku pilgrimage
Day 1 Jan 29th. Toba, Mie-ken to Gojo, Nara-ken 165km
After fighting the wind, the breath of god, to get to the little minshuku at the tip of the cape, I slept heavily and I dreamt of Maggie. Fighting, wrestling all night. She jumps, I block. She gets hold of my shirt, my leg, she drops down, ears pinned back, yellow eyes watching me for weakness, ready to jump again.
I hold my ground. I keep my voice calm. That's enough ‘chica bonita’. It’s fight but it’s also not. I pull her off me. We are ready for another round. It’s a dance. It’s playing. But it’s also serious. It's love and it hurts.
She makes another lunge. I counter. All night, in circles I dream of being attacked over and over by this Bolivian puma. Yet I wake up still full of love for that restless cat. Overflowing love. What a miraculous thing, that. And so, rather than waking exhausted from battles, I wake refreshed and ready to ride.
I catch a ferry across the bay to Toba in Mei prefecture and begin
what I know will be a long day. I try to keep up a good pace-- I know
I have over a hundred miles till the hostel-- but the little ups and
downs and the lovely sun make me lazy.
It is a beautiful winter landscape with brown fields and long views
through leafless trees. I can see the mountains in the distance. In
two days I will cross three prefectures-- the entire peninsula. The
mountains wait. I am getting there in my own sweet time.
I love this about touring. I love looking into the distance and knowing that everything I see I will slow spin myself towards.
Often, the first question people ask when I tell them about my trip
is, Did you go with friends? and I tell them, no. I rode alone. This
time I tried to recruit... but other people's vacations, family
commitments, and enthusiasm for winter weather didn't quite sync up
with mine. So here I am again. Me and my lovely Six. (my bike is called Six)
I-like-red-because-it's-fast is my new favorite pet phrase. (Red bike, winter coat, iPhone, headphones, ….) Not that I'm really all that fast these days. I like riding with company but I enjoy my own pace as well.
There is, indeed, still wind. but as I'm riding inland it isn't nearly as
strong. My legs are more tired than they should be but I'm learning
to love this feeling of the wind.
One of the lovely things about being in the Kii peninsula are the tea plantations (I'm told it's ice tea) ordered like baby shrubs for mazes. The more I travel in Japan the more the mountains resemble each other but the tea plantations make this place quite special.
The ferry landed 9:30am-ish and by 3pm, I’ve covered about 100km. I am in the mountains and the sun has slipped behind their snowy peaks. I have yet to cross the highest point of the day. The temperature is dropping with the sun so I put on more layers.
I am very nervous.
I feel very intimidated.
But this is what I wanted right? This fluttery, will-it-be-ok feeling in my chest. Mountains to cross. The roads are dry. Beautiful scenery…
Yes, this is what I wanted. I had hoped to make there before it got too dark though.
So I keep going. Indeed, it is my only choice. One thing that touring by bike has taught me over and over again: You rarely get everything you want.
A boyfriend once told me that I was the only person he knew who loved nervous anticipation as much as I do. Where other people would love a sure thing, I love not feeling 100% safe. I love the focus, the resourcefulness, and inspiration that comes from being in questionable circumstances. And in the end, I love calm of knowing, not just hoping, that I can do this too.
So up I go, into these mountains, playing with a metaphor in my mind that they, like beautiful women in impossible cocktail dresses holding colorful drinks may try to try to intimidate me with their cold still glances, but my strength will pull me straight past.
Or so I hope.
Unfortunately, this particular road, though beautiful, does not have convenience stores in any convenient sort of frequency. The michi-no-ekis (road stops with food) are closed for the holidays or the season. I’ve already eaten most of the food I had with me. As the road winds its way up, I see a small restaurant and despite the fading light decide it’s a better idea to eat. I have at least one pass and 60+ km to go. At 3pm and a lower altitude, a road side thermometer showed 6C. It’s not getting warmer as I go up. More fuel is needed.
The nice old man and woman are surprised to so me, decked out in my cycling gear and so very white. They ask where I’m headed and I tell them vaguely. I know they wouldn’t approve of how many kilometers I have left to go with so little daylight. They tell me that there is snow on the pass, which is a long tunnel at the top of Mt. Takami. I nod my head. There’s not much I can do… it is between where I am and where I need to go.
I will not be intimidated. I have no choice.
I eat quickly and head back out. They sky is beautiful, turning soft pinks and salmons, reflecting onto the snowy mountain tops.
It is a beautiful climb and easy to stay warm. With each small tunnel, I think I might have made it to the top only to find… no…
In the end, the approach to the tunnel is unmistakable and a crazy piece of civil engineering, curving and doubling back. The views of the valley below, fantastic but no good to dwell on. Sure enough, there is snow on the sides of the road, but the main parts of the lane are clear. It appears that at least one other skinny tired cyclist had been up recently, tracks in the snow.
The tunnel is two and a half kilometers (the map misreads it as me going over the whole mountain, km mark 170ish, but the reality of cutting through the tunnel is, thankfully, much less steep) and the other side brings me to Nara-ken.
Nara-ken is colder.
I now want to get off this mountain as fast as possible.
But not too fast because there is much more ice on the road.
It’s about 5pm and will soon be very dark.
It will only get colder.
Using every bit of grace and cunning I can muster, I descend as fast as seems safe.
Something about the beauty and ridiculousness of this moment. Something about the cold and dark. Something about using all of my bike handling skills with 100% focus. Something about this moment, makes me smile, knowing that whatever I came out here for--which I still can't really put words too--I'm finding. I'm finding in this cold crazy descent off this mountain.
I do not stop to put on extra gloves, toe warmers or anything to make the experience warmer. I just need to get down.
Curve by curve, judging where the ice might be and making sure that I do not need to slow down or turn while I am on those dangerous spots, I loose a few hundred meters of elevation before putting on more layers.
Indeed, most of the rest of the distance left to cover is downhill. There still seems to be an awful lot of it. Front and rear lights on the bike. Check. Headlight. Check. Toe warmers. awww. happy girl.
Ready. And so the evening continues. Eventually, I get off the main highway (166) and take a shortcut (Rt 16). A beautiful little road that follows a river. The winter stars shine down, crystal clear, reflect off the river, twinkling in the cold. This not Tokyo. This is lovely. However, as there are almost no cars on the road, I soon remember stories that cyclists tell about meeting bears...
And so begins my inside-the-head-mantra
and so, because I’m tired and as much fun as this is, I’m ready for bed, because I’m scared of bears, because this is absolutely ridiculous trying to go as fast as is safe on completely pitch black country roads..
And I sing as loud as I can, with as much tone and beauty as I can muster. I sing songs that my brother and I used to listen to on long road trips. I sing songs that my SCA friends would sing around campfires. I sing the wake up songs from the camp in Bolivia. I sing from musicals. I sing whatever comes to mind.
I sing as I look at the river shining in starlight. I sing as I look out for the moving shadows of bears. I sing as I fly through the small towns and the little old people stare at me.
It’s lovely and it makes me happy.
And sure enough, after a few wrong turns and a frustrating moment when I realized that I wasn’t 5km off but rather 35km from where I needed to be, I arrive at the hostel, which appears to have no other guests.
I am grateful for food (my fourth meal for the day…) and a long bath. I realize, a bit to my chagrin that despite covering 165km, I have drunk less than 1liter of water.
I sleep with starlight and songs wrapped around me and prepare myself for more adventures to come.
Map of Day 0,1,2