Looking for freedom in all the wrong places

Today, I quit. And it was good.

Sleeping on the ferry was good and yet bad. Good because I had the entire sleeping hall to myself, and the standard ferry pillow was quite nice. Bad because I didn't get enough sleep since the ferry arrived quite early. I was quite groggy when I passed reception and they told me to wait until all the vehicles had left the ferry. ALL the vehicles! I waited for 45 minutes before I was finally allowed to take my bike out. I was quite annoyed.

Setting off from Hachinohe the weather was near perfect: sun, warmth, blue skies and not much wind. As my annoyance over the ferry faded away I gradually began to realize that I was free. I've already achieved my goal, I've received permission from my wonderful girlfriend to spend more time cycling, and I'm fit enough to go wherever I want. No stress, no goals. Just cycling to wherever I want. As long it's kinda in the right direction to get back.

I was soon punished for feeling this whimsical by a road that kept going up and down with hardly a flat stretch anywhere, and soon the wind picked up and forced me to abandon my newly bought hat, which keeps flapping up at every gust of wind. Perhaps the flipside of the whole freedom/no stress/no goals thing is that my tolerance for bad things goes down. Why face the wind and the hills if you've got no purpose? I don't know if it was mental or physical or both, but I had a pretty hard time today. Pretty hard, but not nearly hard enough to make me give up.

Honshu is just so.. normal. It all feels so beautifully familiar compared to Hokkaido. No more long roads with empty plains and fields of grass: we're back to short stretches of windy roads, rocks everywhere and rice. And don't forget the vending machines, there's so many vending machines, it's like being in cycling heaven. The difference between Hokkaido and Honshu is like the difference between driving a Tesla and driving any petrol-powered car. Anyway, now that I'm back in Honshu, everything just felt so cozy. I knew I wouldn't have to worry about a place to stay any more: I passed at least 5 campsites today, and the mobile wifi thingie has coverage in Honshu so it's fairly easy to discover nearby hotels and camp sites.

After a tough but scenic cycle I arrived in Kuji a bit after lunch time, slightly worn out and with sand my eyes because the wind kept getting stronger and it was rather sandy in the area. I didn't pass a single conbini since leaving Hachinohe, and even Kuji was pretty much a dead town where everything was closed. I found one decent-looking restaurant and had lunch there.

During lunch I checked the weather report, and it wasn't looking good. I already knew that rain was coming, but decided to wait until lunch time to make a decision on how to proceed, because I didn't know when the rain would get close to me. It had gotten quite close already, but what was way worse: the forecast predicts a full week of rain all over the area in Japan I would be cycling through.. My level of enjoyment of rainy day cycling is pretty much zero, so that didn't please me at all. I was planning to take an early stop for the day and then hopefully cycle on the next day after the rain had passed, but it looks like even if I took an extra break day, it wouldn't make much of a difference. The most logical next step my mind came up with was to simply call it quits.

So that's what I did. Having decided that I would cycle no further for the day, I inquired at some hotels for their room rate, but nothing really cheap came out of that. I also asked them if they could accept my bike bag and panniers to be sent to Atsugi, where I would pick it up later. But the kuroneko pick-up points all said that there was a size limit and they weren't sure if my bike bag would be over-sized, and I would have to go the main kuroneko office, which was several kilometers out of town. I didn't really like that, so I went to nearby post office instead. They also said they had a weight limit, but the price was way lower than the one kuroneko quoted, so with that I was convinced to bag the bike today.

That said, I first had to take care of a shitty tiny problem: one of the screws in my rear rack got stuck and won't turn any more, so I went to a nearby bike shop to ask for help. The bike-shop-old-man was very friendly and had it out in no time. He even hammered on the screw in such a manner that I can still use it. Magic. Then he asked for a picture of me and my bike in front of his shop. Apparently a lot of touring cyclists go through Kuji on their way north or south, and he's been taking photos with many of  them. Nice one, bike-shop-old-man!

With that done, he told me to go the kuroneko main office just to be on the safe side. It would be a shame if I bagged the bike at the post office but it was too large for them to accept. So I cycled down to the kuroneko office instead, where the people were very friendly and gave me tons of bubble wrap to wrap around my bike's sensitive parts. Bagging the bike turned out to only take 35 minutes, including reorganizing of luggage. The kuroneko people asked me if it was okay to stack stuff on top of the bike, and I had to very firmly tell them that no, that was not possible, and it should be transported standing up. Once they understood that they were very forthcoming and showed me how they would transport it, in its own little cubicle. Excellent. What's not excellent was the price, which turned out way higher than the initial quote I had received. They kindly waited until after I fully bagged the bike to tell me that, so I wasn't about to say no any more..

With the bike out of the way, I put on my silly hat, backpack and Apple-shoulder-bag-which-is-now-my-clothes-bag, and walked back towards the station. It was a good walk, and I felt extremely free, perhaps more free than I felt in the morning after coming off the ferry. It's a strange thing, freedom. You can never quite grasp it. I made it back to the station with just enough time to catch the next train, which is a big thing in Kuji because there's only a train every 2 hours or so. The train was mostly populated by noisy school children, who kept being noisy all the way back, occasionally commenting on the strange gaijin sitting in the train with them. The train followed the exact same path that I'd cycled today, undoing my progress and rewinding my time.

The train ride took a good 2 hours, during which my knees hurt like hell because of the cramped seats. My knees never hurt during cycling, but they always start to hurt in the evening after keeping them in the same position for too long. I guess they can finally have a break now.

Arriving at Hachioji station, I realized that Hachioji station really is just the Shinkansen station, and there's not much else around here, since the real town is centered around Hon-Hachioji station. Out of the three main hotels, one was obviously overpriced, one was full and the last one only had a twin room for which they overcharged. So I wandered a bit further away from the center and came across the 'Ohshita Hotel'. Lovely. A cheapass, sleazy business hotel, but it's cheap. It also doesn't have airconditioning, which sucks. But it's only for one night. Tomorrow I'll take a Shinkansen back to Tokyo/Atsugi. The bike trip may have ended but I'll be in Japan for at least another week. Plenty of time to celebrate the (former)homecoming.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 2