The first few days have been interesting. I had definitely forgotten about two of the most serious problems (for me personally at least) during cycle touring: sunburn, and the incredible stress of random camping. I learned my lesson in a fairly controlled environment, fortunately, still in familiar territory. Which gives me a chance to do things better when the trip begins 'for real'. I pretty much know what to expect for the mainland part of the trip, and I'm guessing the conditions will become somewhat different when I reach Hokkaido. By then I'll have gotten used to things a lot more.
In terms of cycling, there seems to be a balance between power + efficiency on the one hand, and comfort on the other. The higher the saddle position and the more aggressive the angle, the faster you can go and the more power you can put on to the pedals. But that's just not the best thing to do when you're touring. The higher the saddle, the more annoyed you'll get at every street light for not being able to reach the ground with your feet without falling over. You can't balance 20kg worth of luggage on your toes. As for the angle, if it's very aggressive then you'll find yourself not really relaxing when you're coasting, since you'll be exerting a lot of force on your arms and hands to try and keep yourself upright. I also found that the more aggressive angle makes me choose higher gears and lower cadence, since that means I can use my legs to keep myself in position rather than relying on my arms to push myself back. I've obviously over-adjusted it and need to tone it down a little, but it'll be tricky to find a comfortable angle for coasting while still avoiding crotch numbness issues during long rides. It's a process I'll have plenty of time to fine-tune.
I'm back in Atsugi now. The only way I can describe it is 'surreal'. Already when coming to Japan from Europe, everything feels 'gentler', less offensive. Coming back to the life that I used to have four years ago only adds to the fairy-tale-like quality. That said, I definitely don't belong here any more. It's been four years since I lived here, and it's been eight years since I lived here. Atsugi has moved on, and so have I. With that in mind, I'm not feeling as much wanderlust I had during the last trip; I feel more like I want to reach my goal of getting to Wakkanai. Not necessarily in the quickest way possible, but certainly with the intent of challenging myself.
Rules for unexpected camping (perhaps mostly applicable to Japan):
- Never camp near people!
- No tourist spots.
- No urban areas.
- Local people always show up even if you think you're in the middle of nowhere. Especially people walking dogs.
- Never camp too close to the sea. It's goddamn loud.
- Never camp next to a major road.
- Never camp in tall grass. Your tent will be damp in the morning.
I realize that most of these are quite 'duh', but they really are rules, not guidelines. Any one of these things could ruin a good night's sleep.