Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Kobe and bicycles.


I shot off of Shikoku and away from the tomatoes in a bus. Riding to Kobe to meet an old high school buddy in the comfort of a cushioned seat, snacks in hand.

I met Mayo and her husband at the Kobe station, and was immediately absorbed into the family. I lived as an Ohara for four days - eating with them, playing with them, sleeping on their floor, my laundry mixed with theirs.

As a city, Kobe is nice enough. Modern cities are in many ways all the same. The joy in this visit was clearly with Mayo and her family. I played with Mayo's son, we ate magnificent meals, we watched TV. They are so fun and generous. I last saw them from the deck of a ferry. I waved down to them as the ship pulled away from the dock, out into the darkness and fog, north to Hokkaido.


Sapporo, largest city on this northern Island, and the fourth largest in Japan. Hokkaido is supposed to be a wild place, of forests and rivers and things, so I decided that the best way to see it might be from on top of a bicycle. I also wanted more freedom than is allowed by public transportation - how very American of me. So I bought an old bicycle. Captain Stag, the name was printed on the bar ends. Perfect. Rounding up gear, food, parts took a few days - the hardest thing to find was a helmet. All of the helmet wearers are either children or people serious about being serious, so I could only find tiny and expensive helmets. After much searching, I ended up with a roller-blading helmet. These are almost exactly like bicycle helmets except for two crucial points - the people in the picture on the box are riding roller-blades, and you can't buy them at bicycle stores.

Noggin protected, Japanese language map in hand, I strapped a mountain of luggage to the back of the Captain and rode south into the fog.

Captain Stag and the Hobo Army.

I got odd looks - people here are generally properly equipped and image-conscious. I was clearly not properly equipped, and had what looked like all of my worldly possessions crammed into an assortment of bags tied onto the back of my bike. And I was sweaty.

I rode, I hiked, I climbed volcanoes. I met wonderful friendly people. But the most interesting things happened inside of me, and are by their nature difficult to put into words. I will try. Being alone and living outside strips life down to a bareness, where happiness is most tightly bound to warmth, a full belly, and being dry. The smells of plants in the woods and by the road were vivid, as rich and green as the leaves around me. Sounds of the birds and bugs, punctuated by my own breathing and the hum of tires on pavement still echo in the back of my head. Fears came and went - fear of the grizzly bears that prowl these woods (yeah, wierd huh), fear of flat tires, fear of supplies running out. Sleep came with darkness at 8:00 and I woke with the sun at 3:30 - funny to start my day slow, with a relaxed breakfast and a little walk, and still be on the road before 6:00.

And after a day or two of riding and walking, it is so, so awesome to wash the stickiness from my body and soak in hot mineral water. For five bucks, the ubiquitous hot spring baths provide showers, soap, shampoo, and a soaking pool. Aaahhhh. They are everywhere, I can't get over how great it is. So great. Really great. Shockingly great.

I rode through some deep woods, to high mountains, through rain and some wind, up big hills and down the other side. I learned that an acceptible substitute for a new tire is coating the inside of the old, dangerously frayed tire with two layers of duct tape - 1000km and still going strong. I saw rice farms at the base of towering volcanic peaks and ate fresh asparagus from roadside stands. I ate rice balls from convinience stores. I ate ramen and curry from little restaurants. I ate and ate. My eating peaked towards the end of the trip. I realized one day that I was having my second lunch - after two breakfasts, a snack, and a first lunch - at 10:30 in the morning. And losing weight.

I rode through long tunnels, I camped in grassy lakeside campsites with crows that stole my dinner - those jerks. I hurt my knee and it healed. I hiked in fog, in rain, and the brilliant clear. Above the clouds, in blackened barren volcanic craters. Smells of alpine flowers and of sulphurous steam gushing from cracked mountains.

After two weeks, my pedalling led me to the entrance of Japan's largest National Park, Taisetsuzan.

1 comment:

Kylie said...

you are radical. This sounds like an amazing adventure, one on which I would love to embark. Inspiring. We miss you in Missoula, come back!