Tuesday, February 01, 2011

My kind of romance --Day 2 Kii/Shikoku winter tour

I wake up, finding myself most of the way through Nara-ken already and
ready for breakfast. My body is still tired from the adventure the
night before and I feeling less than spunky. There is a phenomenon
that I call ‘the hundred mile hangover’ where the day after a
demanding ride, your whole body feels less energetic much like you’ve
had too much to drink the night before. I’m realizing that
dehydration is key part of this. But I find it hard to drink enough
water when it’s so cold out. Looking outside your window in the
morning and finding everything covered in frost, doesn't help with
motivating myself to move a little faster, either...

The only thing to do for a ‘hundred mile hangover’ is eat and
rehydrate and … ride
more. So that’s what I do, but I’m slow leaving, in part because
everything outside looks icy! But soon enough, I’m on the
road and it's clear and easy to ride. The winter landscape is
beautiful, the sky clear, and I'm much spunkier once I'm moving again.
Day 3 is supposed to be a short-ish day with a ‘quick de-tour’
to Mt. Koya—the beginning and end of all true Shikoku pilgrimages.

I find the road to Koya-san and it is small and beautiful and quite simply goes
up. The road just climbs. It’s about a 15 km, steady 5-6% climb.
It’s overcast and some of the shadows are frosty but soon the hat and
neck warmer comes off. The windbreaker is long stowed. The jersey
unzipped. The road follows the train tracks for a bit and some
tourists, including one foreign one, stare. I wave back. Grinning.
They wave back, eyes wide and sheepish.

Indeed, the best way to cure the ‘hundred mile hangover’ generally
seems to be ‘go up.’ Burn that lingering lactic acid out of the
system. Get the endorphins pumping. The world in this state is truly

And so I go up.

I see the train snaking up on the opposite side of the valley and am
so happy to be traveling by bike, right at my own pace, feeling the
landscape. I think about all the places I've traveled by bike and the
particular way I love them. I think about how I'd like to eventually
cycle every prefecture in Japan. Isn't this perhaps the best way to
really know and fall in love with a country? Intimately knowing it's
beauties and dangers at a human powered pace? This is a metaphor for
romance if I could ever think of one.

As I go up, I think about what this pilgrimage means and what I want
to say in my head when I finally get the to temples at the top. I
think a lot about the hot food I want to eat too… but mostly, I think
about what prayers I want to send upwards.

This prayer thing is something I never really know what to do with.
Pilgrims on the Shikoku pilgrimage often recite the Heart Mantra Sutra
which is a lot about to how there is no end of suffering or escape for
suffering because there is no suffering because, really, there are no
senses and a lot of that sort of Zen-type-stuff. I find it hard to
get into that. Perhaps the eternal scientist in me simply refuses to
do anything but believe the empirical evidence of the senses. And
yet, I'm still drawn to want to be able to say a prayer.

So rather than wait till I get to the top, I get started. And, it
turns out, all I can think to say sounds something like this
Thank you for the trees
Thank you for my bike
Thank you for the foolish idea of doing this lovely tour
Please continue to give me foolish ideas
Thank you for the strength in my legs today
Thank you for the fish I ate at breakfast
Thank you for that car just now not hitting me
Thank you for the good weather...

And I go on like that for ages as I spin up and up. Eventually there
is a small fork in the road and I think that I may be feeling a slight
drizzle. No worries, I'm sweaty and hot, a little drizzle is fine. I
take the fork left and up the mountain. The drizzle starts to feel
kind of hard and bouncy. Then the drizzle starts to get solid and

In about 30 seconds the weather has gone from totally fine to snow in
every direction. And not just a little. Quite a lot of snow,
sticking to the road, turning everything icy.

At first I'm just surprised. Well, I guess it's too slippery to ride,
so I'll have to keep going on foot.

And then I start laughing. This is ridiculous! and beautiful! what
am I doing here? seriously!? I take some pictures and keep walking
up. Some cars and cabs pass, but don't slow down or seem to notice
me. Don't they worry about a crazy lone cyclist walking her bike
through the snow? I guess not. The cars aren't necessarily doing so
well with the snow, so I don't know that I'd want to try to get me and
my bike in one of them anyways.

I get to a small tunnel and put on more gear--rain pants, jacket, hat,
the leg warmers I mistakenly packed go on my wrists and cover most of
my hands, which are the coldest part of me. Sticker heat packs also
go on my 'wrist warmers' helping significantly. I eventually flag
down a van.

Umm, which way to Koya-san, I ask.
They point back in the opposite direction. (weird)
Ok... which way to the closest train station?
They point in the direction I'm going. (that's good)
How far is it?
mmm, a couple of kilometers.
Ok, thank you. I guess that's fine.
Good luck to you, they say, rolling up their window and driving off.

Well, I guess I don't look like I need any help. I guess that's good.

So I keep walking. The cedars and pines are covered in fresh snow.
I'm reminded of walks with my family around Christmas time. My shoes
make funny prints in the snow.

Thank you for giving me the sense to ride with SPD shoes.
Thank you for the heat pack warming my hands
Thank you for the station not being too far away.

I'm lost in disbelief at the whole situation but pretty warm and happy
and soon enough, there, indeed, is the train station, complete with
many of the cabs who drove past me without acknowledging my presense.

I go to the ticket booth.
Um... I know it's kinda irregular but I can take my bike down the
cable car, right?
You must put it in a bag.
Ok, no problem.
Where are you going?
Um... I don't really even know where I am. I guess anywhere down the mountain.

The station master isn't amused. He hands me a map. I buy a ticket
to Hashimoto.

It's not cheating to take the train if the weather is unsafe for
cycling. It is extra not cheating if you take the train DOWN the

I bag the bike and look for snacks that aren't made of wheat. The
climb followed by the adreniline from the surprise snow have left me
feeling light headed and woozy. I find some chocolate in my bag and
make due. I fall asleep soon after getting on the train. As I doze
in and out I see the snow change to rain as we descend.

At Hashimoto I have a choice, ride to Wakayama or take the train. I'm
cold, tired, feeling like I've had enough adventure for my 'easy day'
and unwilling to miss the ferry from Wakayama to Tokushima where my
hotel reservation is.

Taking the train when you are lazy and don't feel like biking through
drizzle IS cheating. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth it. I curl
up with some M&Ms and listen to the local high school boys discussing
amongst themselves if my bike is a Keirin bike.

The rest of the day is uneventful. The rain stops and I feel a little
sad that I don't feel I have the time to bike through this
countryside. I get to Wakayama just after dark, ride from the train
station to the ferry port, find the next ferry is in an hour. Eat
dinner, spend my time on the ferry in a shared tatami room stretching.
Arrive at the Tokushima hotel 9ish.

I check in with my bike outside the entrance. After I get my key I
shoulder the bike and walk through the fancy lobby.
Um, would you like us to put your errr, luggage, somewhere? they ask
Oh no. I've got it. See, I'm carrying it so it won't touch anything.
*big grin* and I'm in the elevator going to my room. They don't stop
me. Sometimes it's just best to take advantage of the lack of
confrontation. My bike deserves to be in my room with me.

This was also supposed to be laundry day. I guess that's not going to happen.

And so the adventures continue...