Japan day 11
Takamatsu 0 km
Forty years ago, I was studying for an MA at Lancaster University, living amongst an international crowd of postgraduate students. We knitted very well together as a motley group of personalities, and one of those friendships was to endure and be revisited here in Takamatsu. Akihiro has spent most of his professional career teaching at Kagawa University and now, in retirement, he has moved to a smaller private university. (Many professionals like Akihiro have to continue working into their 70s because pensions are insufficient to meet living costs in Japan). Out of respect for privacy, no photos are included here, but Akihiro and Sachiko (his wife) have spoilt me something terrible, made too much of a fuss of me, have fed me with richest offerings of the land…..in short, it has been very sad saying goodbye to them. And like most Japanese people, they think I am totally mad cycling the length of their country…..and to think (they say) I will be finishing in Hokkaido where, even in April, it will still be bitterly cold…….(now they tell me!). Oh well, maybe I’ll find myself sleeping inside temples and shrines (instead of in their gardens), pleading with Buddha to take pity on me.
For much of the morning Takamatsu was bathed in warm spring sunshine……
and Akihiro took me to one of the three most famous traditional gardens in Japan: Ritsurin Garden, where the cherry blossom was bursting out in all directions…
…and people were beginning to celebrate their annual ‘hanami’ picnics beneath the cherry blossom. For the ten days the trees are in full flower, people just have a big party all over Japan,
which starts in late March in the south, and finishes in late May in the north…..such is the difference in climate between north and south.
A brochure describes the Ritsurin Garden as “a superb cultural asset that conveys the characteristic of the daimyo strolling gardens of the 17th-18th centuries…”. The daimyos were the great power lords who served under the Shoguns of that period, and they demonstrated their wealth by creating these fine gardens.
And one of the many “assets” of such gardens is the Tea House where you can sample the serving of the ceremonial tea…..a small sweet delicacy served with green tea, sitting cross-legged on tatami matting, overlooking the lake where wasen boat rides take place.
A day of friendship and relaxation will be, tomorrow, followed by a day of two ferry boat rides, and a 30 km crossing of Shodoshima Island……and back to the principal island of Honshu.
Then it’s back to the day job…… :)
Japan day 10
Compared to yesterday’s route, today could be classed as simply a long hard day at the office, with a lot of these in the scenery
….but alleviated from time to time with sparkling views of cherry blossom (sakura) just coming into flower
There was a purpose to coming to Takamatsu, it didn’t just happen to lie on the route. The purpose goes back to a friendship formed 40 years ago, during my postgraduate days, and an invitation made at that time. But more of that later.
I want to tell you of the special welcome at Imabari. I am a newbie in the Warmshowers community, and last night was only my second experience of being hosted. I was a guest of this delightful couple…..
…Tsuneto and Akiko, both in their 70s, who were really doing the hosting on behalf of their son, Fumito and his wife (also Akiko). The latter two had spent their year long honeymoon cycling throughout China and Vietnam, and this was their way of putting something back into the community.
We lingered and chatted over a veritable feast prepared by Akiko senior,
and then afterwards Fumito took me to his favourite onsen (hot spring) where we soaked in the volcanic waters in an outdoor pool. For me, the perfect antidote to a day on the bike.
When Tsuneto revealed that he and his wife are veteran pilgrims, we discovered we had the route to Santiago de Compostela in common. But more than that, when Tsuneto retired from medicine (at the age of 75), they walked the famous henro pilgrimage round the 88 temples on Shikoku, covering more than 1000 km. That was a major feat, and I was deeply impressed.
From free camping to the luxuries of being hosted by such kind people…..this journey has had everything so far.
Japan day 9
Where do I start describing a day whose route would probably feature amongst my top 5 favourites of all time? I’ll cut the superlatives by simply saying: if you ever come to Japan with a bike, make this day’s route a priority.
But first, as I was making my way to the first of 7 suspension bridges, a smart X-Trail pulled over and the driver flagged me down. His name was Eduardo, of Brazilian Japanese heritage,
and all he wanted to do was……well, chat about his enthusiasm for cycling! And we did…..and he enthused even more about the route I was about to take, the Shimano Kaido cycle route.
So what of this route, you might be asking. Well, I was hot-footing it back to Shikoku Island, but not by ferry this time, but via a cycle route that crossed six islands and seven major suspension bridges, the longest being 6.4km. To say that the scenery was stunning is a grave under-statement. Not only did the cycling take my breath away (and each bridge did include a 2-3 km climb just to get on the bridge) but so did the panoramas. They were unremittingly breath-taking the whole day. And being Sunday, half the Japanese nation were out on bikes enjoying the same. So, instead of rabbiting on, I’ll let the photos do the talking.
But first the route:
I also chanced by groups of primary aged children practising what looked like sword skills,
only to discover from one of the parents that it was a Kendo competition, a martial art that has been inherited from the Samurai days. These kids were as keen as mustard, and everyone of them meant business with their lunges and their strikes. I was invited in to watch with the eager crowd.
What I was watching was a bit of Japanese history being acted out.
When I got to Imabari, a very special Japanese welcome was waiting for me. But more of that in another post……..just to whet your appetite, it included a bit of this:
Japan day 8
Could I find a bed anywhere for 2 nights in Hiroshima? Not a hope. There was a big baseball match on as well as a convention, so officially all beds in Hiroshima were sold for Saturday night. So I took a bed in a kind of capsule hotel for last night. In this case it was like an upmarket backpackers’ hostel, where the beds were divided off into curtained cubicles. But very smart and very modern. And it gave me a chance to catch up on some laundry.
When I was searching for the hotel, I asked a young student for advice, and he said he was going in the same direction. We cycled together for some 20 minutes, he delivered me to the doorstep, and wished me luck with the trip. I suspect, however, he saw the detour as a good opportunity to practise his English. In fact he was concentrating so much on his English, he kept straying off course, and he nearly wobbled into a few pedestrians on the shared pavements.
Reading about the atomic destruction of Hiroshima in textbooks is one thing, but standing on the exact spot of the hypocentre of the explosion is quite another thing.
The Peace Memorial Park is located right beneath the detonation of the bomb on August 6th 1945. It’s a contemplative place. Much praying is done at the Cenotaph
where the names of the 340,000 dead are recorded. The Memorial Museum recounts the story of the drama in minute detail, the human suffering and the tragic consequences. The Children’s Memorial
reminds us that children continued to die years after the explosion, from the many radiation linked diseases. And the A Bomb Dome,
which survived intact despite being directly beneath the explosion, has been preserved as a fitting memorial to the horrors of atomic warfare.
As I was contemplating the Dome, Yamaguchi, a 69 year old cyclist, came to ask about my journey in his broken English.
I noticed he was wearing a badge that declared he was a Portuguese speaking guide (he’d lived in Brazil for many years), and he was a survivor of the A bomb. He showed me his birth certificate which stated he had been born one month after the explosion……in other words, he was an ‘in utero’ survivor. And his mother survived to live to age 89. He then took me to meet his colleague, Mito,
who was also an ‘in utero’ survivor, and then gave me a fragment of roof tile that had suffered the 4000 degree meltdown at the hypocentre.
My 4 hours wandering the Peace Park gave me direct access to understanding something of the scale of the human tragedy of August 6th 1945.
Climbing on the bike to head out of the city, my mind was mulling over the events of the morning, when it was suddenly jolted from its reverie by the unmistakable tune of Auld Lang’s Syne, being sung in Japanese at this wedding
……could anything be more weird than that?
It was a good 96km bash in the afternoon session, to Onomichi, to set me up tomorrow to cross the Shimanami Kaido highway, whose bridges link 6 islands in the crossing back to Shikoku Island. If the weather stays fine (which seems unlikely at the moment), the crossing should be spectacular.
Back to toilet talk. There’s a need to get to the ‘bottom’ of a few issues.
The remote control mentioned in an earlier post has nothing to do with the flush, but everything to do with comfort, personal hygiene and covering one’s embarrassment. Reading the instructions and what to do in case of malfunction, it became clear that going to the loo in Japan requires a first degree in electronics.
You may not be able to read the above, but I think you understand what I mean.
To quote from the instructions, two of the functions are either for sprinkling your rear, or bidet-ing your rear. Quite what the difference is, is not immediately clear, but I looked down the bowl and where the jets came from was not clear either.
A third button was mysteriously labelled “sound”, but I happen to know it’s relevance (and you may too). The Japanese, apparently, and ladies in particular, so hate to be labelled as guilty of making the natural plops and tinkles of toilet-going, that there is now a national standard in toilet design that includes a button for creating flushing sounds to mask those embarrassing natural noises. The only trouble is that if you hear the artificial sounds coming from someone’s cubicle, we all know they are guilty anyway…..so we can either chuckle about them, or tease them mercilessly when they come out.
The national obsession stretches to footwear as well. We all know that when you enter a Japanese home, you kick off your footwear and either don some slippers or go in your socks. Well, those same slippers must not be worn in the toilet, because the toilet is unhygenic. No, you kick off your house slippers and put on some special toilet slippers which are always left by the door of the toilet.
You might say that answering the call of nature becomes one of the many unusual cultural experiences that Japan has to offer.
Japan day 7
As the sun was setting, I headed up to the most prominent Shinto Shrine in town, the Hachiman, located at the top of a fortress-type mound, with commanding views over the town. I selected a small verandah to put up just my inner tent. There was no room for the full tent, and anyway, the surface was concrete and wouldn’t take pegs. It felt like a perfect spot. Quiet and undisturbed.
Temperatures dropped to just above freezing, but I was warm enough. Distant barking of city dogs ‘chatting’ to each other broke the silence, as did delivery vehicles until, at 5.30 am, a car drove up the hill and parked just 50 metres away, its headlights blazing in my direction.
Instinctively, I knew I was the target. A figure got out of the car and came in my direction. A split second decision: do I pretend to be asleep or get out of the tent and meet my visitor? What would you do?
Well, I took the latter course of action, opened my tent flap, and as he approached I said as breezily as I could: “Konnichiwa!” (hello!). I expected to be shouted at and told to pack up and leave immediately…..but on the contrary, he returned my greeting giving a slight bow, and walked on by. There I was all prepared to defend my case, and the wind was taken from my sails.
A few minutes later, I heard the creaking of doors, and at 5.45 precisely, the huge shrine kettledrum was made to boom across the city. He left a few minutes later leaving the entire precinct of the shrine open to the public. And I had it all to myself to explore….
There seems to be a level of tolerance and acceptance in Japan that even we in the west don’t enjoy. And Japanese society seems to tick over quietly with very low levels of crime. At no time in the last week have I felt threatened by any situation, nor worried about the safety of my bike.
My route to Matsuyama was an absolute delight. Most of it followed the coast, on a beautifully smooth road, the hills leveled by tunnels (my longest to date over 2km in length)
and the sun was shining throughout. Occasionally, the odd shrine caught my attention
Although I was watching the time for catching the 14.15 ferry to Hiroshima, the going was so fast, I found time to have a relaxing picnic on one of the many jetties I passed.
My plan is to spend two nights in Hiroshima, hopefully in a hostel, and take time out to learn about the city’s tragic history through the eyes of the people most affected.
Japan day 6
I woke up this morning forgetting where I was. I opened my eyes and, yes, I was at ground level as I would be in my tent…..but I was not in my tent. I was lying on a futon (not my air mattress) and I was under a mountain of soft duvet (and not in my sleeping bag)….and what’s more, I was in a tatami bedroom….
a bedroom that is absolutely minimalist: futon, duvet and tatami matting…..nothing else.
I was the guest of Young June OH and his family (wife and two little girls)……and they welcomed me into their family home for the night. So how did this happen, you might ask.
Well I became a member of Warmshowers.org, the cyclists-only equivalent of Couchsurfers. It’s made up of an international group of cycling enthusiasts who open their houses to host cyclists passing through their area. And last night was my first experience of being hosted.
For reasons of their privacy, no photograph is posted here, but they were the most charming family you could imagine. OH is Korean, and he met his wife (Japanese) in India. Their faltering English at the time was their only shared language, but further years of study and travel have much improved their fluency. They now live in a house that they built themselves,
and have two beautiful little daughters, one of whom engaged me in singing English nursery rhymes over breakfast, some of which she already knew from kindergarten.
It was a delight to stay with them, enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast….and as I left, a little pack-up was thrust in my hand for the road. Experiences like that are the stuff of life.
(And to boot, having unlimited access to free WiFi, I was able to Skype my dear wife….for me at 7.30am, for her at 10.30pm….we were straddling two different days).
From a height of 600 metres, my route to Beppu was largely downhill,
several layers of clothing protecting me from the deep chill. Had I had the time, I might have stayed a while to explore some of volcanic-related offerings of Beppu, especially the hot springs and the seething cauldrons known as the ‘hell ponds’, but time was pressing, and I needed to catch the 14.00 ferry to Yawatahama,
leaving the island of Kyushu behind and heading over the water to the island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. The 3 hour crossing would give me time to relax and review my schedule for the coming days.
But I’m pleased to note that I am still bang on the draft schedule I made out for myself before departure.
As I upload this, I have my eyes on a Shinto Shrine for camping out tonight. Wish me luck…..
Japan day 5
From the Pacific coast, it was up into the mountains towards Mt Aso, which sports the biggest volcanic crater in the world. Last night the temperature had touched freezing point, but my 2 season down bag, plus a few layers of clothing, kept me snug and warm. Taketa, however, is nearly 400 metres above sea level, so what of my sleeping arrangements tonight? Will this man, for once, have to pay for lodging? More of that later.
But first, let me tell you about Osato
I stopped part way up the mountain at a layby with one of the ubiquitous drinks vending machines, bought myself a drink and started eating a snack. Osato got out of his car and started asking me the usual questions. I offered him a banana cake, he accepted, and two minutes later, out came his wallet and gave me a 1000 yen note. So then began the pantomime……
Accepting a gift in Japan has a set ritual…..you always (but always….no exceptions allowed) refuse. They will insist, you refuse again; they will insist again and you keep on refusing……until, of course, you are worn down into accepting. We Brits would just wonder why all the fuss….just accept the damn thing and move on. Life’s too short. In Japan, however, even though the outcome will always be the same (ie. you end up accepting) the preceding pantomime of refusing and insisting has to be played out…..if not, you will simply offend.
So Osato and I were nominated for an Oscar with our performance, and in return, I gave him my personal card, which he thought an excellent exchange. (Now I’m counting how many cards I have left, and how many thousands of yen they could earn me…..).
Saying farewell to Osato, I went into this facility thinking it was a loo, or a benjo
…and, of course, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, full of dirty mag vending machines, trying to peddle porn to pedalers like me (I presume). The plethora of front cover pictures suggested there are a lot of women out there with nothing to wear……a fairly typical female problem, I know.
Once in Taketa city, I sought advice at the Information centre about an address I have, dived into the onsen next door and luxuriated in the thermal baths for an hour, went to a restaurant and sampled ‘karage’, the local chicken speciality
….and waited for a lift. Reason for the lift? ……tune in for the next post.
(this is beginning to sound like a bad episode of ‘Corrie’….sorry about that).
Japan day 4
Being an inveterate traveller, a belief that sustains me through thick and thin is that we must always travel with hope. When times get tough, always believe that round the next curve lies your mini-salvation. Yesterday was one of those days.
The Zen rendition was about to start. The wind had changed direction (damn it)….it was now coming from the north at 20mph, and guess my direction? For the next 93km, I was heading directly into the teeth of the chilly blasts. It was cold, it was dispiriting, it was slow…
To cheer myself up, I stopped by a photographer’s and they gave me materials to make this sign for the back of my bike
primarily to avoid answering the same question (where you go?) 100 times a day, and just to stand back and watch them reading the sign, shaking their heads and sucking air in disbelief. However, an unexpected bi-product at my first refreshment stop was a young lad who thrust a bar of chocolate in my hands, punching the air in encouragement. That helped to lift my spirits.
When I got to Nobeoka, very tired and very disgruntled, I found an information office, and a young man, Nobutake, took on my case of looking for a pitch for my tent. And so began the final, and very unexpected, act of the day’s drama. He and his boss, Seizou, personally accompanied me up a steep hill to a beautiful little secluded garden belonging to a Shinto shrine, where I pitched my tent next to a public bathroom….very convenient!
Nobutake then took me to the shrine to pray for the success of my trip, and then grabbed an official car and whisked me up to an onsen (hot spring), where I was inducted into the ritual of naked bathing in the hot natural springs.
After four nights of free camping and no showers, I had almost become a signed-up member of that global community of the “great unwashed”. These hot springs were, therefore, pure bliss….
But that wasn’t all. Seizou and Nobutake had other plans
……they took me to their favourite restaurant where we sat cross-legged on cushions at a low table, and dish after dish of mysterious-looking food appeared, most of it fish and most of it raw, washed down by liberal meaures of beer and sake (rice wine).
Having accompanied me back to my tent, we said our goodbyes, I thanked them profusely, and they simply said: “we hope you leave with happy memories of Nobeoka”.
What do you think?
Japan day 3
I hope I’m not going to suffer some kind of Zen perdition. Being on the edge of a mountain forest, my sleep last night was constantly interrupted by animal activity: foraging wild boar and feral cats…to name but two. So I de-camped into the temple itself, and slept soundly on the tatami matting, under the gaze of Buddha himself. Well, at least he smiled at me throughout……. :)
A flat(ish) wind-assisted route with the sun shining….what more could a fella like me want? Well, something was definitely missing….the promised cherry blossom, no less. The temple garden of last night will be a riot of blossom….but in a few days time…you can imagine my frustration…..can’t you? I already have a history of planning trips and missing important features of nature (New England fall, Dutch bulb fields)….oh, Buddha, don’t punish me like this! I’m sorry for sleeping in your temple last night..
A visit to two important Shinto shrines on today’s route saw me fall into conversation with this group of lads…..
….they were trying to throw (with the non-dominant hand) little clay balls into a tiny wishing well down the ravine. If you succeed, any wish will be granted you. The one on the right shouted with each throw: Let me go to Cambridge University! Guess what happened with his throws? He missed by a long way. He was such a bright spark, I reckon Cambridge is losing out there.
Above is the Udo shrine, where I witnessed a special Shinto blessing given to a family. Extraordinary…..I mean, really extraordinary.
And then the Aoshima shrine, which is located on a tropical island, linked to the mainland by a causeway. There I met Antonio from Barcelona, on his third trip to Japan.
But time was pressing. I was planning to meet up with Masayuki
in Miyazaki…..(yep, I know, two names that are easily transposed….). Masayuki, formerly a High School principal, had brought a group of his pupils on a day visit to Kimbolton School back in 2006, in response to an exchange placement our Head of Geography, Simon Wilson, had fulfilled in his school.
Needless to say it was a delight to meet Masayuki. He treated me to an excellent Japanese meal,
sharing a couple of hours of fascinating conversation that ranged from the interpretation of Japanese kanji characters to why some 10% of the nation wear face masks.
The icing on the cake? He helped me find a free camping spot in the gardens of yet another Buddhist temple right in the centre of town….I wonder where all this is leading….?
So this morning, packing up my tent quietly at 6am, I was about to creep away when Tomoko appeared
…and invited me to take a shower and have breakfast. Remarkable generosity, because we hadn’t met last night. Their son had been at home while parents were out, and he rang them for permission for me to stay. Without knowing anything about me, they said ‘yes’. Timoko was the most gracious person you could meet, bowing constantly and begging me to have breakfast. She served me sweet rolls, coffee and fresh strawberries in their tatami lounge
…and then insisted on giving me a box of chocolates on my departure. I felt truly humbled when she came out to wave me off, and wish me a safe journey. What did I do to deserve all that……?
Japan day 2
Cape Sata-Kushima 108kms
As I left Sata this morning, the enormity if the journey ahead was thrust in my face….
….except that mine will be closer to 3000kms.
If you intend coming to Japan as a lightweight traveller, you are going to be disappointed. I had heard of the prolific generosity of the Japanese, and for me the present-giving started today, the first day of my route.
I stopped by a roadside orange seller to buy a couple of oranges. The owner, Ken
(probably short for Kenichi) tried his few words of English out on me. With the aid of some writing, I discovered he was a retired maths teacher, and when he asked my age (which happens a lot in Japan), and discovered I was 2 years older than him: “And you bicycle to Soya Misaki……?” He was about to say ‘Are you mad?’ but he just stood there shaking his head and sucking air through his teeth (a common Japanese expression of disbelief). He gave me two more big oranges, and when we exchanged personal cards, he gave me yet another two. If I had stayed another 15 minutes, I would have successfully cleared his stall of all his stock!
As I scouted round for a place to camp in Kushima, these two school chums
(who were hitch-hiking round Kyushu), acted as my interpreter in the train station (best place for local information and maps). They were full of beans…….they wanted to know all about my trip: “All the way to Hokkaido” they said. “How old you are?”…….what is this fetish about age? They just spent the next few minutes jabbering away between them….but the tone was unmistakably one of disbelief.
But I ended up asking a lady, who was raking leaves in what I thought to be the grounds of a Monumental Stonemason’s, and she told me I was very welcome to pitch my tent there. But she was worried that there was only a cold tap in the garden and a long-drop benjo. I’m sure she was thinking that a man of my age should be looking for something a little more comfortable…..but I told her I was delighted with the ‘terms and conditions’. Out of pity she then dived into her car and brought out some sweet potato snacks, and gave me all the coffee she had brought for herself.
Nobe was then joined by Miruko,
and they explained that I was camping in the grounds of a Buddhist temple, (and she showed me how to pray before the Buddha…..a lot of deep bows and clapping) that also served as the site of the cemetery…..but assured me that my neighbours would be quiet.
After they had disappeared for the night, Nobe came back bearing more gifts, including some slippers and fine paper craft.
How we communicated throughout remains a mystery. Nobe had about 20 words of English, and me about 10 of Japanese….and most of those about food and drink.
And this was only day 1 of my journey. I wonder how many more pairs of slippers will make a bid to fill my remaining pannier space?
I will now rest my weary head tonight thinking only sublime Zen thoughts…….
Below, my morning ablution….
Japan day 1
Kanoya-Cape Sata 68kms
Getting to the end of a narrow unpopulated peninsula will always present some challenges, but to reach the most southerly tip of Japan, Sata Misaki (Cape Sata) added a 1km trek on foot over steep mountain tracks. It was late in the afternoon, just before sunset, but there were still a few ‘pilgrims’ there, happy to take a photo for this mad gaijin (foreigner).
Once I had given them the idea, they all wanted their photos taken with the lighthouse in the background.
All that done, I then had an urgent need to find somewhere to pitch my tent….darkness was descending fast. 5 kms back down the road, the perfect spot presented itself…..by a small harbour, with a drinks vending machine (which dispensed me a ring-pull can of hot coffee) and a sanitary block. What more could I ask for……and no pitch fee. Not exactly wild camping, but ‘free camping’ nevertheless. I fell asleep to the sound of waves lapping against boats…….could it get any better?
…..but of course every perfect experience can be interrupted from time to time. At 5am, I was awoken by the sound of car doors banging, glaring headlights and animated voices. I thought….has sleep gone out of fashion in Japan? No ordinary gathering of trippers this….there were about 60 eager deep sea fishermen awaiting their trawler tugs to take them out for a day on the deep blue. They had all the (expensive) kit.
And, btw, a kind young navy chap used his smartphone to find me a motorcycle shop that could supply the missing bolt……and he walked me there to make sure I found it. Just one of several kindnesses already shown me in my first 24 hours in Japan. I’m already impressed….
24 hours after my BA flight lifted its undercarriage from Heathrow, I touched down in Kagoshima, Japan’s most southerly airport. But more than 12 hours of that time were spent in transit and on internal flights…….always with fingers crossed that the bike was going to follow the same trail. And it did……phew! (The bad news is that Jenny has found the bolt for the seatpost on a shelf above my bikes at home……so now we’ll have to test the land of Shimano to provide me with the right part for the job).
Now for some light relief. Japan may be well known for its squat long-drop ‘benjos’ (loos), but I walked into the bathroom of my hotel room (a bit of luxury for the first night) and I was confronted with this…….
I mean, what is this all about? The remote control on the right seems to perform half a dozen different functions, and all I wanted was just to flush the d**n thing. So I shut the lid, pressed all of them in turn, and not a thing happened. Ah, then I found the low-tech override…..a small handle……so we got a normal flush in the end.
Oh, and btw, the cable on the left (if you can see it) going into the seat is a heater. When I sat on the ‘benjo’, it gave me a shock……a very warm loo seat in a room that was already at 30 degrees C!
The logic defies me…….
……..just discovered I may have left the seapost bolt at home (….several expletives have been considered, but as yet unexpressed!). It could be an uncomfortable start on Saturday morning…… :( Why does life have to get in the way?
In the meantime, treading water in Terminal 5…..
Blissfully quiet……which could be bad news for BA……
Most people in the world of cycling will have heard of Steve Abrahams by now. He set off on January 1st to break the annual mileage record set by Tommy Godwin in 1939 of 75,065 miles.
As I parked outside our local mini-market, I scrutinized a bike that looked familiar. When its owner came out of the shop, I recognized him immediately to be Steve Abrahams. He seemed a little surprised that I should greet him by name, but his brain must be so befuddled from spending 12 hours in the saddle every day, cycling over 200 miles, that he hasn’t really taken on board the fact that he is probably being followed by millions around the world. His is a lonely world of rhythmic cadence and regular fuel stops, sometimes sitting on the unforgiving surface of a parking lot. There’s nothing romantic about this world record attempt. It is a year-long physical and mental struggle, buried deeply in a world of his own.
There is scarcely a gathering of cyclists anywhere where his name doesn’t crop up in conversation at some time.
If you’re interested, his current total for the year so far is 13,757 miles (some 2,300 ahead of Tommy Godwin at this stage). If you live within a 100 mile radius of Milton Keynes, look out for him on the road. Check his website here:http://oneyeartimetrial.org.uk/
Beset by my ignorance of kanji (Japanese characters), my cunning plan is to let my very basic Garmin 200 take some of the strain out of navigation. Now some of you may be Garmin experts, even ‘junkies’ with samples of every model, and you know that the 200 doesn’t have any mapping. In fact, it might be regarded as a poor navigation tool, because without the mapping, it can never tell you where you are or give you guidance on where to go next. So what of it?
Well it is neat and small (a big plus), and it’s limited functionality means that battery life is better than average (very important where re-charging outlets are few and far between). But its ‘breadcrumb trail’ is its only navigational guidance. In other words, on that tiny screen, all I will see is a line and an arrow pointing in my direction of travel. If I deviate from the line, it will buzz me to tell me I’m off course, and point me in the direction for regaining the course. Nothing more than that.
So, how does it know my course? Well, each day’s route of the 3000 km journey has been planned on Garmin’s own website and uploaded to the device.
Now I know there is a huge potential chasm between the reality of the pre-planning and its functionality on the day. I experienced this with the Garmin Edge Touring last year. So I am not expecting miracles.
If you’re eager to hear of my success (or lack of), keep following these pages. You may be entertained to a torrid litany of expletives…… :)
End-to-End of Japan
My nose has been deeply buried. For several weeks now I have been ‘feasting’ myself on a media diet of the history, geography and the mores of this nation of inscrutable people. This 3000 km journey, from Cape Sata in the south, to Cape Soya in the north, will be much, much more than just riding a bike…………..even though riding the length of one of the most mountainous countries in the world (75% of its landmass is volcanic) will be very much about riding the bike.
After listening to several podcasts of the excellent Melvin Bragg series Life in our times, my head is now filled with the history of the samurai, the shogunates, Zen Buddhism and Shintoism, the Sino-Japanese conflicts, the brief presence of European missionaries in the 16th century, followed by 2 centuries of isolation from the rest of the world. Japan only opened its borders again in the mid-19th century because of the bullying tactics of the Americans. It’s all fascinating stuff.
Then there is the geography of a country that is the most earthquake, eruption, and tsunami-prone in the world……bar none. And the sheer demographic of over 220 million people living on only a fraction of the landmass, in overcrowded cities on the flat Pacific coastal plains……..right in the line of any wandering tsunamis that come in from the Pacific (as we saw in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster).
I have been much entertained and educated by the cycling adventures of Josie Dew in Japan. She spent two long periods riding the country and, though I would not aspire to her style of touring or the amount of stuff she carries on her bike (the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’, no less), she paints a vivid picture of the surprises she encountered on her travels.
And a quick lesson (via email) from a former pupil of mine who had studied Japanese at Durham University, on key language to get by with and, perhaps more importantly, advice on how not to ‘put my foot in it’ when meeting and dealing with Japanese people. So very important in a country where ‘saving face’ is as equally important as the ‘preservation of honour’ used to be in bygone Europe.
Traversing the country, I am going to be challenged by signage that will be written only in Japanese kanji (Japanese characters) and not in romaji (Roman characters). My map may have place names in romaji, but that will be of little use when gazing uncomprehendingly at kanji signs. And sadly, the Japanese have been amongst the world’s experts at tunnelling through their mountains. Why sadly? Well, for a cyclist, that can be critical, especially if one of your pet hates is riding through tunnels. There is nothing more disorientating than finding yourself in the middle of a long dark tunnel, with no lighting, and your entry and exit points are out of sight, and there are few light-reflecting white markings along the way to reflect the beam of your cycle light…………
There will be many stories to tell along the way, there is no doubt. And because of the huge climate change between north and south (south is sub-tropical, like the Canaries, and Hokkaido in the north is sub-arctic, much nearer to Vladivostock than Tokyo), I am having to break my cardinal rule of only taking what fits into a saddlebag. My own principles now in pieces, I join the ranks of pannier carriers……..but definitely only two.
And if luck is on my side, which it seldom is, I will coincide with the early blossoming of the cherry trees in the south, and follow it going north with the spring. However, finishing my journey before the end of April means that I will coincide with the snow-melt season in the far north…….in other words, it will still be very cold. Hence the extra clothing and the need for panniers.
I head off in a week’s time……..so stay tuned.
….be ever at your back!
Fat chance that will happen on a circular route……I headed off to join the club at Wimpole Hall, a noted stately home in Cambridgeshire administered by the National Trust. It has a fine, spacious café that can accommodate a lot of cyclists descending at the same time.
After half an hour of banter and refreshment, I set off with the B group (the second quickest of the three groups) and we headed up the steep hill out of Wimpole and into the 25mph wind. The pace was a bit grim, set by one of the strongest members of the group, and we lost a couple off the back. Another guy was complaining, but managed to keep with the pace…….and a young lad in his teens, with the physique of a climber (ie. zero BMI), climbed the hills as if they weren’t there. He led the way, dragging the rest of us to the top.
But there came a moment when I had to peel off to make my own way due west, to get back to my village. And guess which way the wind was blowing? You’ve got…….right into my face. It was cruel…..
But having said all that, you have to remember, a grumbling cyclist is usually a happy cyclist……. :)